Monday, January 29, 2007

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.


At 12:55 AM, Blogger Lee said...

Good post,

I agree with the general sentiment of this article, but I want to speak a little on an alternative method that doesn't get as much attention as it should. Making cars more expendable. Our overeliance on our own personal automobiles is what allows us to be slaves to the gas prices. When gas hits $5.00 a gallon (or more), savings from a different battery will be a drop in the bucket. For those of us who live in big cities or smaller urban areas, why not try using different modes of transportation? If you live, work or shop anywhere on the busline, start using that for a change. If you are only going a short distance and the weather permits, try riding a bike or even walking. If you live in a major metropolitan area, then the subway or a light rail is also another option. I live in a big city and as long as it's not freezing or raining I usually always walk anywhere within a 10 block radius. If I need to go to the grocery store and don't want to walk that far with a handful of bags, I'll take the bus. I ride my bike sometimes as well. If I need to travel farther distances, I do drive, but only when I have to. I have plenty of friends will drive to the store when it's only 2 and a half blocks a way. They waste gas by needlessly driving everywhere (no matter how close), yet they complain the loudest about spending all their money on gas. Of course, for those that live in the suburbs or rural areas, it may be more difficult. There are other options though. Carpooling, for example, is a great solution that enough people don't make use of in my opinion. Also if you happen to live in the suburbs or the country, simply making a more efficient use of your driving time would help in terms of gas costs. Try to make all your stops in one trip, and in the shortest route, that way you minimize the time of making trips to and from your house or apartment every single time you need to go out. Plan ahead and make all your trips at once. Gas costs money. New high technology batteries cost money. Hybrid cars costs money etc. But Carpooling can typically cut costs by as much as 4/5ths. A bicycle may cost a couple of hundred dollars up front, but it doesn't run on fuel. Bus passes are usually dirt cheap. Walking is always free. Try to make use of these when you can! You'll need to talk to others in your local communities to organize a carpool or get information regarding a bus pass, and walking requires no explanation, but for those thinking of giving a bicycle a try here is a good guide that goes into detail about what to look for when picking out a bicycle. I wouldn't recommend purchashing a bicyle online -- you should probably visit your local bicycle retailer or large department store for a purchase like that. It's still a good idea to read about some of the differences between bikes and what to know about different speeds, frames, and sizes etc. Anyway, just thought I would pass that along. I enjoyed reading your post though. Very informative. Thanks for sharing and keep up the good work!

At 11:45 PM, Blogger joninaz said...

Tahil's opinion is based on old data. Here's the latest report on world Lithium reserves:


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