The United States has a lithium supply problem. Nearly every major automaker has announced a transition to electric vehicles, Tesla delivered almost one million cars in 2021, and electric vehicle companies like Rivian and Lucid are rolling new models off the line.This video ties into a lot of lessons I teach my geology and environmental science students. Time to recycle.
In order to power all of these EVs, we will need batteries, lots of them. Electric vehicle growth will be responsible for more than 90% of demand for lithium by 2030, according to Benchmark Mineral Intelligence. But lithium is also in our phones, computers, ceramics, lubricants, pharmaceuticals, and is essential for solar and wind energy storage. This vital mineral in rechargeable batteries has earned the name “white gold” and the rush is on.
But today, the U.S. is far behind, with only 1% of global lithium being mined and processed in the U.S., according to the USGS. More than 80% of the world’s raw lithium is mined in Australia, Chile, and China. And China controls more than half of the world’s lithium processing and refining and has three fourths of the lithium-ion battery megafactories in the world, according to the International Energy Agency. There is only one operating lithium mine in the U.S., Albemarle’s Silver Peak, Nevada.
But that could be changing. Last June, the Biden administration released a blueprint for jumpstarting domestic lithium production and refining as well as battery manufacturing, and set a national EV sales goal of 50% by 2030.
This video touches on three lessons I teach my students, all of which connect to Commoner's Laws. First, there is no free lunch when it comes to resources that have to be mined. Mining causes a lot of environmental damage, as the video shows. The pollution itself is an example of everything must go somewhere; there is no "away."In this video, the nature knows best lesson is using renewable energy and cycling the brine to extract lithium from beneath the Salton Sea.
Second, everything is connected to everything else, in this case through the global supply chain. In particular, that the U.S. is 100% dependent on imported rare earths, particularly from China, leaves us vulnerable to China threatening to restrict exports of rare earths, which could seriously impede our high-technology and green economies. I tell both my geology and environmental science students about that every semester.
The last lesson is a hopeful one based on nature knows best. As I noted in Seeker and CNBC examine the hidden environmental costs of electric cars and how to reduce them by recycling, recycling mimics natural chemical cycling in the environment. In that entry, technology used chemical and physical processes to extract lithium and other batter[y] components.
As for the tone, I commented before on CNBC's perma-bull attitude and tendency to prioritize entertainment as much as information, although the latter is more prevalent on their CNBC Television YouTube channel than the main CNBC channel, and CNBC being watched by people who think they own the country. All of those make me hear "ka-ching" whenever the video brings up stock prices, but I'm not going to discourage people from investing in green energy. The world needs those people to do something useful with their money.
It's time for me to return to teaching. In the meantime, stay tuned for more short posts through Thursday.