As the world transitions away from fossil fuel, it is beginning to embrace electric vehicles. While the transition is slow, it is happening. However, some have raised concerns about the abundance of lithium and its ability to power a full fleet of cars.
Estimates put the total lithium reserves at 14 million tons. That may not sound like a lot, but it’s enough to match the total production volume in 2018 by over 165 times.
However, that production rate is going to increase exponentially.
That said, the keyword here is “estimated” because new reserves are found, just like in the oil industry.
Mining Lithium Is Not Environmentally Friendly
While lithium is being used to create batteries that power green technology, the actual mining processes are not good for the environment.
Now to be completely honest, mining any raw material on Earth is not a good thing. They scar the land, consume large amounts of energy, and utilize vehicles that run on fossil fuels throughout the entirety of the mining process.
However, all of this is still nothing compared to water usage.
On the surface, lithium mining is pretty cheap and efficient as far as mining goes. It doesn’t even use a lot of chemicals that pose a threat to the surrounding area. But it does take 50,000 gallons of water for every ton of lithium.
One of the methods to mine for lithium is to actually pump underground water deposits to the surface. The water is then left to evaporate. The salts that remain contain lithium, which is extracted.
Does This Mean Electric Cars Are Not Sustainable?
Marketing has done a great job at highlighting all of the positive effects electric vehicles have. However, it doesn’t mention the lithium problem. This raises the question, are electric cars sustainable?
To be perfectly honest, no, not really. Yet, this is true for any object that uses a finite resource. Even something like a wind turbine is not actually sustainable. The energy it produces is, but the materials used to make it are not.
However, this is before we consider recycling.
With recycling, these materials become reusable, and lithium is no exception. In fact, a new battery recycling plant is opening in New York. Most electronic devices have a battery in them, and they are made from lithium.
And they are completely recyclable, but most recycling centers can’t handle them. The process is just too complicated. However, thanks to the higher demand for lithium, more plants are sure to open.
Litium Is Still Better Than the Alternative
The important takeaway here is that lithium is going to become the next oil. However, it’s still a better option than oil by a mile.
Transportation makes up more than a quarter of emissions in the United States. The benefits far outweigh the negatives in this situation. And to be perfectly honest, it is very possible that innovations will lead to an alternative to lithium.
In fact, many battery manufacturers are already searching for one. Batteries are in more than just cars.
More than 20 years ago, it was all about nickel-cadmium batteries. Today, it’s lithium-ion. Who knows what will come in the near future?
Robert has been following and writing about environmental stories for years at GreenGeeks. He believes that highlighting environmentally friendly practices can help promote change in every household.