Environmentalists ignited the lithium industry | OilPrice.com

The world is gearing up for a lithium boom, driven primarily by the expected increase in production and adoption of electric vehicles over the next few decades. Several celebrities and tech billionaires support lithium mining in an effort to support a green transition. In addition, many countries are rapidly developing their mining capabilities to establish their place in the global minerals and metals market, which is expected to grow significantly over the next decade.

However, environmentalists worry about the damage that the rapid expansion that mining operations could cause to the environment. Additionally, a series of viral social media posts have drawn negative attention to a mineral that the public knows little about, beyond hearing about it in the context of lithium-ion batteries. If we are to expect substantial development of the lithium industry in the coming years, more awareness must be made around the mineral industry so that producers and manufacturers can gain public support and encourage expansion of the consumer market. Additionally, mining and energy companies must address environmental concerns to ensure their operations are in line with the goals of a green transition, as countries and companies around the world strive to reach net zero and to do less damage to the environment.

In 2021, Australia was the largest lithium producer, producing 55,000 metric tons, with reserves totaling around 5.7 million metric tons. It was followed by Chile, which produced 26,000 metric tons, China, Argentina, Brazil, Zimbabwe and Portugal. Although these figures could change significantly as Chile, Argentina and Bolivia invest heavily in the development of a lithium triangle in South America.

Argentina accounts for around 21% of the world’s lithium reserves, and although relatively new to the scene compared to Chile, which already has a well-established lithium mining industry, it is now investing heavily in the sector. Increased demand for electric vehicles (EVs) and lithium-ion batteries for electronics is expected to drive a lithium boom, with international pressure for increased mining activity already mounting. Currently, Argentina has two lithium mines in operation, but 13 more are planned and dozens more are under consideration, making it the world’s largest lithium pipeline.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) plans a 40x increase in lithium demand by 2040. Traditionally, lithium mines require a two-year evaporation process, where lithium is separated from salty brines. Currently, the production of one metric ton of lithium requires 500,000 gallons of water, with lithium mining in Chile consuming about 65% of the region’s water. However, several mining companies are investing in the development of alternative methods that require less time and water to be used in the extraction process, through direct lithium extraction (DLE), to make it more profitable and less harmful. for the environment.

As mining companies and governments around the world invest in expanding their lithium operations, many wonder if there is enough ore to produce the number of batteries needed to reach net zero. Estimates suggest that approximately 2 billion electric vehicles must be produced to reach this goal. Lithium production totaled about 90.7 million kg worldwide last year, and an EV battery contains about 8 kg of lithium. Meanwhile, global reserves are expected to total around 22 million tonnes (20 billion kg). About enough lithium to make 11.4 million EV batteries was produced in 2021. If all of the world’s lithium was used for EVs, it could contribute to the production of about 2.5 billion batteries. However, it will also be used for several other lithium-ion battery-powered devices, from laptops to mobile phones. This represents a huge challenge for the development of the number of batteries needed in the coming decades.

While several prominent public figures are support lithium mining, like Tesla CEO Elon Musk, environmentalists around the world are concerned about the impact that the rapid development of the lithium industry could have on the environment. The huge amount of water required for lithium production is of concern for areas without abundant water supplies. Produced on Chile’s salt flats, activists fear mining will depriving local communities of vital water resources, the fauna and the flora. In addition, the artificial ponds used for production release lithium, which could potentially contaminate community water supplies.

Additionally, a recent viral social media post showing the bright colors of man-made lithium ponds is accompanied by the following statement: ‚ÄúThis is what your electric car batteries are made of. It’s so neurotoxic that a bird that lands on it dies within minutes. Guess what it does to your nervous system? Congratulate yourself for saving the environment. Although viral posts criticizing energy operations are nothing new, it is a concern when the public has little knowledge of the energy source, which means their judgment can be easily swayed. At a time when governments should be educating the public about the importance of a green transition and the types of energy and mineral resources that will be used in that transition, we are instead seeing a growing level of misinformation. With the rollout of electric vehicles necessitating consumer interest in investing in battery-powered cars instead of ICE vehicles, this is worrying.

The lithium boom is near, and yet there is still a long way to go to make it a reality. Not only is major investment needed to harness the levels of lithium needed to support a major green revolution, but greater public education campaigns need to be conducted to increase consumer understanding of new products entering the market. Additionally, mining and energy companies will need to fund more research and development to improve environmental practices, while addressing concerns to gain greater project approval around the world.

By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com

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