All this analysis is assuming we use all available lithium for EV automobiles and trucks. A typical EV car has about 1000 lbs of batteries. Trucks can be up to 3000 lbs of batteries. Whereas a typical e-bike battery weighs up to 20 lbs. One car ~= 50 e-bikes. One truck ~= 150 e-bikes. As we try to replace gas cars and trucks with some form of EV, we have a once in a forever opportunity to change our minds on how an average person should get around. Let's not waste it.

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Children are being forced to work in the mines to obtain the materials necessary for these batteries. It also comes at great environmental cost. https://junkscience.com/2020/10/mean-and-unclean-electric-cars-powered-by-child-labor-in-africa/

And what type of energy is used in mining these materials? It certainly isn't electricity. Furthermore, our electric grid is woefully inadequate to charge all the EVs if a majority of Americans owned one. What happens to the batteries at the end of their lifespan? They are expensive to recycle, even if that were possible. They will end up in landfills along with the giant, broken-down wind turbine blades. The cost of building all the charging stations that would be necessary is prohibitive. That is another cost that will be forced on taxpayers.

There is also the issue of time. How much is your time worth while you are waiting for your turn at the charger or waiting for the amount of time it takes to charge your vehicle? And I would hate to see what happened in a natural disaster if everyone owned EVs. How are you going to evacuate millions of Floridians when there's a hurricane if the power is out or they have to wait hours to charge their EV?

The price of EVs are way beyond the reach of most Americans, and that is even with all the taxpayer subsidies. Yes, others are paying for your EV. The true cost of these vehicles is hidden by the subsidies and toll charges being used to promote EVs. Money is merely a measure of value, and when government puts its thumb on the scales, it distorts the true cost and real value of what is being produced.

There are still the problems with range, of issues when the weather is cold, and the occasional EV bursting into flames while being charged.

Finally, the idea of man-made climate change is a hoax. It is designed to deliver more power to the globalist elites who want more control over our lives. The same people who have been saying sea levels will rise and wipe out the coasts have been buying multi-million dollar mansions right on the beach, and for at least 20 years, they have been scaring people by saying the world would end in 10 years. What is the carbon footprint of their mansions, private jets, and yachts? We are being conned.

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So, we have enough lithium for now and things look pretty good for the future. But . . . what about the environmental costs of mining lithium--whether from mineral extraction or evaporating saltwater? We have seen the kind of devastation that occur from mining coal and oil drilling. Can wqe prevent such things from happening as we mine lithium. In addition, is the waste from lithium mining a health hazard? I hope we can temper our lust for lithium by putting environmental and waste disposal protection procedures into place as we ramp up lithum mining.

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Great article. I enjoyed the napkin math fact checks as well, it makes it much easier to understand and grasp. Thank you!

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I think one thing to keep track off regarding this topic is lithium mining from seawater. There, the resources are on the order of 180'000 Million tons - far more than we will ever need (see: https://tinyurl.com/4uckm4z9). Desalination of sea water is probably going to be a big thing, soon - concurrent production of lithium from the residual brine might be an intersting option, too.

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I've read somewhere that, in a worst-case scenario, magnesium-based batteries may have adequate performance to sustain EVs, and magnesium is one of the most abundant elements in the Earth's crust, we will never run out of it.

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Lithium sourced from geothermal and oilfield brines in North America and elsewhere are an untapped source of this critical mineral. In Alberta, Canada alone, a handful of resource companies are reporting well over 50 million tonnes of lithium carbonate equivalent already (i.e "www.neolithi.ca"). The western Canadian sedimentary basin alone has well over 100 million tonnes, and its production will be pretty "green" compared to open pit mines in Australia or the aquifer depleting salars in South America.

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I'm an miner, and one of the few people on this planet who has actually built a lithium mine. This article should be correct but it is not. Should be because we have all the lithium badly needed for EVs and other applications. It is not correct because the mines take far longer to be built than people can imagine and this is where the problem lies. Typical time frames are 10-20 years from discovery. That is due to: complexity and funding, environmental issues, governments are incredibly slow to approve things, NIMBY, and on and on. In Canada, for example, once you have discovery, engineered, financied, obtained environmental and community approvals for a new mine, you still need to get a tailings permit and the government itself estimates 1-2 years for this. You can't even apply until the other items have been checked off. Adding to that, most lithium mines take a further 1-3 years to get the chemistry right to produce the purity needed for batteries. This is why lithium is trading above $60,000 per tonne, up from $7000 per tonne a few years ago. Ms. Ritchine, I'm happy to discuss this with you if you want any clarificaiton.

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The problem with the approach of this article is that it assumes that the best option is to replace every single ICE vehicle with an EV. This, when millions of cars are lining our streets, unused - on average - for 95% of the time. I'm all in favour of introducing EVs, but this has to be accompanied by a massive reduction in in motor vehicle use in general and the introduction of proper alternatives (public transport, cycling, walking, home working, a less frantic life, work near homes - all things that were very common in the past). Then, the issues of resource availability, extractivism, ecological damage and exploitation become more easy to overcome.

It's interesting that this article has brought out a whole bevvy of climate deniers, making arguments about the very real problems with lithium and cobalt extraction. Ignoring these problems is just playing into their hands.

Of course, ignoring the problems is just exactly what the corporations and governments promoting a mass EV market similar to the current ICE one are doing. So also are the beginnings of struggles against extractivism for EVs, both in Bolivia and Serbia and I have no doubt in other places as well. It is these that will limit availability of resources for EVs and also delay the uptick in production that this article deems necessary.

Finally, there is a scientific error in the article. The statement "it’s easy to imagine that decades from now, the chemistry of batteries will have changed so much that they will use two, three, or four times less than today" is incorrect. The mass of lithium in the battery determines the amount of charge it can carry. Using Faraday's second law of electrolysis

m = QM/vF

(Mass of lithium = (charge (Coulombs, or ampere-seconds) x Molar mass (7g per mole)) / (valency (1) x Faraday's constant (9.648 x 10^4 coulombs/mole))

so for a 2 ampere-hour cell (7200 Coulombs):

m = (7200 x 7)/(9.648 x 10^4) which is 0.52 grams of lithium. This is the theoretical minimum mass of Li/Li+ that transfers 2a-h of charge.

A cursory look at the internet says that a 2 ampere-hour 18650 cell contains "about 0.6g" of lithium, only about 15% more than the minimum. I can't see much scope for reducing this, as there will always be losses and inefficiencies in these cells.

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Wow, these comments are all over the place.

There is no mining that is "clean" but nobody offers an better alternative.

Oil and gas will be here to support the transition but you have to start the transition at some point.

Recycling is not cost prohibitive for lithium batteries. As a matter of fact several companies are going to make an enormous profit doing just that.

Mining cobalt is dirty business with bad labor practices. The industry is well aware of it and likely why anyone on this thread even knows there is a problem. Companies are transitioning to less cobalt in their batteries and also focused on improving those conditions. The skeptic in me thinks the people commenting here are just using that as an excuse since their other comments don't appear to be supportive of other ideas outside of status Quo.

Mining practices for lithium are also going to improve. There are several ways to mine without large evaporation ponds that will decrease time to get material and also be cleaner for the environment than traditional mining.

There is a strategic need to source critical minerals from places outside of China to ensure security of the US and allies.

I am an advocate and believe in this future. It has room for improvement but it has to start somewhere. Don't stop progress with focusing on the immediate issues. Focus on resolving those issues to continue to make incremental improvements.

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Very interesting. My question is what about the number of available.charging stations ?

The federal gov't is mandating eventually a charging station every 50 miles on the interstates.

What will power the charging stations? Renewables are certainly not totally available & reliable at all times, So carbon sources will be needed also.

I would imagine that each charging station will need a HUGE lithium battery as a backup when there are inevitable occasional power cuts to the charging stations from the main power sources.

My (uninformed) speculation is the numbers of charging stations and their power demands may be the biggest bottleneck

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More important is cobalt, which is mined in Africa using children as slave laborers. Is it really worth destroying the lives of children to satisfy the silly green movement? Wonder if it was your child forced to work mining this stuff? EV's are actually killing machines in more ways than one.

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It may be worth mentioning that there are two companies currently exploring for lithium deposits in Cornwall. One of them, Cornish Lithium, is planning to exploit lithium deposits in brine, but without using an evaporation process.

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Aug 21·edited Aug 21

I think lithium batteries are only a short-term solution. The article makes an outrageous assumption that the current round of EVs will

Last until 2040 or 2050. That’s nonsense as EV batteries have a stated life of 10-20 years and I believe that is overstated. It can be as low as 8 years and likely more in the 10-12 year range. That and with the child labor in the mix, Lithium EVs don’t make sense. And owners have this smug attitude that they’re somehow making a difference when the energy is just displaced and they don’t realize that half or more of the energy (in California) used to charge their car is produced by natural gas which really shouldn’t be considered as green or renewable. Lithium is a stepping stone and I hope better solutions are in our future.

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Love the article and the comments. But super interesting that the core assumption, i.e. that lithium is required for the transition to electric vehicles, doesn't seem to be addressed. A few years ago I was having a conversation with a friend who was working for an NGO raising the alarm about cobalt. My thought at the time was that it's great, but probably not as big a deal as his NGO was making it out to be, since it seemed to me that lithium iron phosphate (cobalt free) batteries would solve the problem. What do people think about sodium ion batteries? Seems like Prussian white is a drop-in replacement for the positive electrode material in EV batteries. If lithium becomes a constraint, I don't see why other chemistries won't be used. Would be very interested to see the author consider battery technology and minerals more broadly. 90% of the battery factories that will be built in the next decade have not been designed yet, so we still have a lot of flexibility in terms of which chemical species we use in our batteries, right?

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A problem not mentioned here is the requirement that lithium ore needs to be refined to usable product. The refining capacity would need to grow as much as the lithium mining capacity, and, just like mining, that refining capacity needs to be dispersed. That is, not be highly concentrated in countries where it will be leveraged politically. (e.g., China) Building a metals refinery takes a lot of time and would have all the same NIMBY problems as other industrialization projects in countries where the public has a say in policies.

Also, I would like to see a similar back-of-the-envelope discussion that includes lithium required for other needs. I see a very large need for battery backup to stabilize power availability using only intermittent sources. This analysis provides very useful information needed for that analysis as well as the car battery problem.

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