The Limits to Lithium
Lithium-ion batteries have become a major focus of the effort to build electric or plug in hybrid cars. With General Motors' launch of its Volt plug-in hybrid prototype, lithium-ion batteries have become what USA Today called "the holy grail" of battery technology.
But a report by William Tahil, research director with Meridian International Research in France analyzed the world supply of lithium and concluded that replacing gasoline powered cars with lithium-hybrid cars would result in "even tighter resource constraints than we face today with oil."
Most lithium comes from a limited number of salt pans and salt lake deposits around the world, particularly in South America. Bolivia is believed to hold nearly half of the global lithium reserves. Switching the world's production of cars to lithium based cars would require six times the current production of lithium--and this doesn't include present production of lithium-ion batteries for portable electronic devices.
Tahil argues for more resources to be spent on new battery technologies that use common metals such as nickel or zinc. Examples of this are the sodium nickel choride or "Zebra" batteries and zinc air batteries. Zebra batteries have found some poularity in Europe and a Canadian company is considering licensing the technology to begin production in Canada.
Zebra batteries, Tahil argues, could be the dark horse battery technology of the future. Unfortunately, the buzz around lithium-ion batteries has been making it hard to get the investment to get Zebras off the ground.