The lithium-ion battery is a consumer’s stored energy preference today because it provides a higher and longer level of energy for personal electronics and electric vehicles. However, the world’s lithium supply is controlled by a few countries and corporations. What comes to issue is whether the supply of lithium will be able to keep up with the demand for it, particularly as more vehicles with battery power roll out. Over a million electrically powered vehicles are on the world’s roads now, and given their proliferation, it’s safe to say that the demand for lithium will remain heavy.
At current consumption, the U.S. Geological Survey estimates that we have a 365 year supply of lithium. Given the expected exponential increase in consumption though, it’s foreseeable that the supply could be reduced down to less than 20 years. That potential issue requires immediate attention if we’re going to continue to move away from fossil fuels as an energy source.
Cobre Montana is an Australian company that believes it can resolve the issue of a lithium shortage through its new extraction process. It involves extraction of lithium from micas that are much more abundant than the South American ores we now extract lithium from. The process from micas is far less costly than extraction from ores that have to be mined. Extraction can even be done without any mining costs because mica is thrown away. The mica can be obtained as a byproduct of mining.
As one Cobre Montana executive put it, the world consumes about 38,000 tons of lithium a year, but Elon Musk wants another 38,000 tons. That’s where we have the foreseeable bottleneck.
Utility companies in the United States are also attracted to lithium-ion because they’re familiar with it, and it’s available through established and reputable companies. Lithium-ion is the preferred choice of these companies for short-term energy storage. As technology develops and more lithium-ion customers purchase battery powered electronics and electric vehicles, more research and development funds will be invested to meet the increasing demands. Assuming Cobre Montana’s process can be implemented and commercialized, the issue of global lithium availability should become moot.