Will We Run Out Of Lithium?

You have likely heard the term lithium-ion battery before. One of the key components in these types of batteries is the lithium. As these types of batteries are becoming more and more in demand, some groups are getting concerned about the sourcing of the products required for these lithium batteries.

Will we run out of lithium? Yes, we will eventually run out of lithium if no advancements in battery storage technology happen in the near future. Lithium is a finite element and there is even less of it that can safely be mined from around the world. As the demand for lithium-ion batteries grows over the next decade, scientists will be forced to find different avenues for electrical energy storage.

All sorts of everyday items that we use rely on lithium-ion batteries. If you own a cell phone, that uses a lithium-ion battery. If you have a tablet or a laptop, those use them as well. Even a lot of your power tools, your electric toothbrush, and electric scooters use lithium-ion batteries. Most rechargeable electric devices today rely on this technology.

The exact battery used in each of these devices mentioned is different from device to device. The size demands the amount of power it can store, how long it lasts, and how it will fit into the device. All of these devices utilize smaller lithium-ion batteries than what is becoming the biggest lithium consumer out there, the electric car.

These cars use large battery packs that run the length of the vehicle. The lithium-ion technology allows the battery to be recharged quickly and last for a very long time. Due to the size and power storage requirements of electric cars, these batteries are very large and require large amounts of lithium. In addition, with many automotive manufacturers pledging to only produce electric cars in the future, the demand is only expected to keep rising with time.

What Year Are We Projected To Run Out Of Lithium?

So, do we know when we expect to be out of lithium? The experts don’t have a super defined estimate, but they do have a general idea. Unfortunately, there are a lot of different factors that come into play. These all make it very hard to nail down exactly when we will run out of lithium. A lot of this is just projection.

First off, the demand for lithium is entirely projection. Assuming that electric cars become our entire transportation infrastructure seems to be the path forward right now but that could change with the course of time. In addition, we don’t actually know how much lithium we have on earth. Currently, it is estimated that there is between 30 and 90 million tons of lithium on the earth. Obviously, that is a pretty big span.

If lithium were to be needed as expected, that would mean that we could be entirely run out of lithium by as early as 2040. This would be the case if there were only 30 million tons of lithium on the earth. If there were actually closer to 90 million tons, we could probably get closer to 2100. Either way, that lithium supply will eventually run short.

As of right now, the real bottleneck is not finding lithium. Currently, the supply chain component that is slowing down electric car production is the mining of the lithium. Most lithium mining facilities are not properly equipped for this sudden high production level. As such, a lot of improvements need to be made to these mining facilities before they are ready to mass produce so much lithium.

How Much Have Known Lithium Reserves Increased Over The Years?

So, has our discovery of lithium changed over time? It definitely has. There is a lot we don’t know about this earth and what is on it. As of right now, experts predict that there is between 30 and 90 million tons of lithium on the earth. That is a huge span and goes to show just how much we don’t know. With time, more and more lithium deposits are found, and new mining facilities are setup.

Even today, new lithium reserves are still being discovered. One prime example is pretty recent. In October of 2021 a massive lithium deposit was discovered in Maine. This particular deposit was estimated to contain about $1.5 billion worth of lithium. This is a huge discovery that was found in a very developed country.

Likewise, more and more lithium deposits will continue to be discovered with time. Just in the last couple of years dozens of major deposits have been found. This is the reason for the huge span in the earth’s total projected lithium. We keep finding more all around the world and will likely continue to do so.

Are There Other Materials That Can Be Used For EV Batteries Once Lithium Reserves Are Used Up?

Are there other options of materials that we can look to use in place of lithium? There are actually a lot of different materials being looked at right now that could be used to replace lithium-ion batteries. A lot of research is being done to find something that can work equally well but have a better supply.

One of the most promising replacements is sodium-ion batteries. If you happen to have a periodic table nearby, take a look at where Sodium and Lithium are. It turns out, they are right next to each other on there. This means that they share a lot of similar qualities. 

First off, sodium ion batteries are a ton cheaper to produce than lithium-ion batteries. There are several reasons for this. First off, there is a ton more sodium on the earth than there is lithium. Secondly, it’s a lot easier to extract the sodium and process it than is the case for lithium. If you remember, sodium is found in salt. Thus, all of our oceans are chalk full of sodium.

Secondly, lithium ion also requires cobalt in order to work properly. This material is extremely expensive and also difficult to acquire. In place of cobalt, sodium ion batteries use iron and manganese. Both of these materials are cheaper and more available than cobalt.

Lastly, sodium ion batteries are significantly lighter than lithium-ion batteries. As a result, your vehicle will weigh less which helps improve your range and performance. All of these benefits help bring the overall cost of an electric car down. The battery is hands down the most expensive component in an entire electric car. The only way for electric cars to become extremely affordable, is for the price of the electric batteries to become cheaper. Sodium-ion batteries could be the solution for that.

One big downside to sodium-ion batteries is that they are less energy dense than lithium-ion batteries. As such, if you have a sodium ion battery and a lithium-ion battery of the same size, the lithium-ion battery will hold more electricity. As such, this can affect the range of your electric car and it’s performance. The reduced weight does help alleviate this problem slightly, but it does not have a big enough effect to make them equal in this aspect.

Can We Just Keep Recycling Lithium-Ion Batteries Over And Over Again?

You may be wondering if recycling can have an effect on how long our lithium will last. Recycling definitely can have an impact on how long it takes to run out of lithium. Lithium can be recycled but unfortunately, with current methods and technology, it can be very expensive and only marginally effective. 

For example, currently when a lithium-ion battery gets recycled, about 50% of the battery can be recycled in order to be used again. The other half is just waste. As such, you are putting half of your lithium back into circulation, but you are losing some with every car.

As such, you can’t just continually recycle lithium batteries. Each time, more and more of the material will be lost and wasted. This does not solve the problem of lithium supply limitations. Although, it does significantly affect how long our lithium will last. Without any recycling of lithium batteries, we would likely run out of lithium much sooner than projected. 

If recycling techniques were to improve, we may be able to reuse a greater percentage of the battery, but it will never be at a point where the lithium is able to be 100% reused over and over again. As such, a lithium alternative will need to be implemented at some point.

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