Over the last few months we’ve been discussing here how we’ll all get around post oil, looking closely at how electric or wind powered cars might work.
The ranges made possible by new batteries seem very practical, when looked at against current car use patterns refuelling appears to be possible, even desirable, without the need for garages. And the National Grid appears readily able to accommodate the switch from oil to electricity for our entire car fleet.
So far so good.
Justin Noe raised a good point the other week, probably the next big practical question – is there enough Lithium in the world for us all to have EVs?
Justin quotes an article by a Michael C who says there isn’t enough, he doesn’t offer any numbers to support that view though – so we took a look, this is what we found…
Lithium is the 33rd most abundant element in the Earth’s crust – it makes up about 0.0007% which doesn’t sound a lot when compared to Iron’s 5% and magnesium’s 2%, but it may still be enough. How much is 0.0007% in metric tones?
According to Keith Evans, a geologist who’s been working on and writing about lithium reserves for decades, there are 28.4 Million Tonnes of Lithium metal in the ground. Let’s assume he knows his stuff.
That’s (apparently) equivalent to roughly 150 Million Tonnes of Lithium Carbonate – the stuff that goes into ‘Lithium batteries’.
According to William Tahil, the guy who seems to have kicked the lithium shortage debate, a typical Hybrid EV will need 16kg of Lithium Carbonate in it’s batteries. Let’s assume that a pure EV needs four times as much.
There are 900 Million cars in the world and so we’d need 58 million tonnes of lithium carbonate to power them all as pure EV’s with Lithium batteries.
That’s a little over one third of global reserves. Clearly enough to go round with some left over.
The world currently produces and consumes 16,000 Tonnes of Lithium metal a year, or 84,000 Tonnes of Lithium Carbonate (equivalent). And it produces 50 million new cars a year – this needs adding in to the equation.
Powering 900 million cars with Lithium Ion batteries, allowing for the additional 50 million cars a year and maintaining the current levels of demand for lithium in ceramics, drugs, aluminium smelting etc – would leave enough Lithium in the world to last another 28 years.
OK 28 years is not very long, but this assumes that Lithium reserves don’t increase as deposits become more economic as the price goes up – as with oil.
But the bigger factor is that Lithium is recyclable, unlike oil. Currently the USA recycles 98% of its car batteries whilst we in the UK recycle 90%.
If we assume that only 10% of those 50 million new cars need virgin lithium due to recycling old batteries then suddenly our reserves are going to last for over 200 years.
I don’t suppose that Lithium is the only game in town, to power EVs. The article Justin pointed out actually argued that super capacitors were ‘better’. They may or may not be one day, and EV’s will no doubt come with a range of technologies powering them – but there’s one thing we can be clear on;
If we relied 100% on Lithium, to ‘repower’ the world’s car fleet – we should have enough Lithium to do that and still ‘last’ for a couple of centuries.
And that’s a very (very) long way from the conclusion that there’s not enough in the world.