Introduction: A Critical Element
Lithium is integral to the realization of decarbonization goals and the sustainable future that is being built around the world. Already omnipresent in consumer electronics, lithium-ion batteries are powering electric vehicles and being used as energy storage for renewables. With demand continuing to increase, the rare earth metal is considered one of the most critical elements to the transition towards a low-carbon economy. As the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report explains, the window is rapidly closing to reduce carbon emissions before we begin to face the consequences of a planet warming above 1.5 °C. However, in the face of growing lithium demand, the question has often been asked: is there enough lithium to meet these targets?
Running Out of Lithium
An inability to produce enough lithium would result in severe delays to the roll out and implementation of electric transport and renewable power – as such, it is fair to question whether there is enough of the prized element to meet global needs. The damage caused by traditional lithium mining methods has raised concerns over the sector’s sustainability, and a lack of supply would certainly exacerbate them. However, we are able to put all these concerns to rest.
Global lithium reserves are estimated at over 14 million tons, and (depending on who you ask) the amount of lithium needed to meet current goals is somewhere between 0.5 and 1.3 million tons. In 2021 lithium extraction peaked at an industry record of 100,000 metric tons. These statistics alone can inspire confidence in the lithium industry’s future, but there are many other reasons to feel bullish. Technological breakthroughs in the sector mean that lithium can be extracted more sustainably from brines in addition to increasing yields, while the development of a lithium recycling industry is a foregone conclusion. This ensures that the world will not be in a position to run out of lithium.
Asking the Right Questions
While lithium reserves are not a problem to the immediate and long-term needs for low-carbon mobility and power, there is one question that does not get asked nearly as much: can we meet demand with current infrastructure? “Unfortunately, battery capacity can be built much faster than lithium projects,” Global Lithium president Joe Lowry tells S&P Global, “The lack of investment in lithium capacity over the past five years will extend the supply shortage. Even well-capitalized major lithium companies have struggled to meet their expansion targets.”
Lowry believes that there could be a deficit by 2027 and believes supply projections past this cannot be trusted to be accurate. FastMarkets corroborates Lowry and Global Lithium’s fears, but indicates that supply would collapse by 2026. It is for this reason that countries are seeking to secure domestic lithium supplies – Mexico, Chile, China, the United States and the United Kingdom have all made moves in 2021 and 2022 that indicate an interest in developing their own supply chains.
Conclusion: Securing a Future for Lithium
However, the pressing need to secure lithium has also met resistance. Serbia rescinded Rio Tinto’s lithium mining license following protests, while the U.S.’ largest lithium deposit in Thacker Pass, Nevada, is involved in a court case blocking extraction activities. Countries with large deposits such as Australia, Argentina and Bolivia can still be expected to produce for international markets, but there will be a need for major investments and a rapid scaling up of infrastructure to increase extraction activities. What is needed is efficient technology capable of reducing the risks of a bottlenecking of lithium supply from brine to battery – something EnergyX is specializing in.
EnergyX LiTAS™ Direct Lithium Extraction (DLE) technology and SoLiS™ batteries are disrupting the market and showcasing the innovation needed to solve the real issues within our industry. Increasing lithium yields, reducing the need for heavy chemicals, metals, and large amounts of water for brine processing while producing lithium at a much faster rate than current methods, LiTAS™ is the future of lithium extraction. SoLiS™ meanwhile is redefining lithium-ion batteries, with initial testing showing it is more durable, charges faster, stores more, and provides more versatility than anything on the market. EnergyX has lodged over 50 patents in just four years of existence and seeks to fix the issues within the lithium industry, and plan to prove it by tackling the supply issues facing the sector.