The element Lithium, an alkali metal, is atomic number 3 on the periodic table, and makes up only 0.0007 percent of the Earth’s crust, according to the Jefferson Lab. It was discovered in the mineral petalite (LiAl(Si2O5)2) by Johann August Arfvedson in 1817, and it’s only found in minerals and salts.
It has many uses, however, The USGS Mineral Commodity Summary for 2021 reports that 71% of lithium is used for batteries. “Lithium consumption for batteries has increased significantly in recent years because rechargeable lithium batteries are used extensively in the growing market for portable electronic devices and increasingly are used in electric tools, electric vehicles, and grid storage applications. Lithium minerals were used directly as ore concentrates in ceramics and glass applications.” The report goes on to say global consumption of lithium in 2020 was estimated to be 56,000 tons of lithium content, and the second half of 2020 saw lithium demand increase owing primarily to strong growth in the lithium-ion battery market.”
Mined lithium resources include continental brines, geothermal brines, hectorite, oilfield brines, and pegmatites. The commodity report notes that five mineral operations in Australia, two brine operations each in Argentina and Chile, and two brine and one mineral operation in China accounted for the majority of world lithium production, but added that brine-based and mineral-based lithium sources were in various stages of development in those and other countries as well.
A BBC Future article has recently reported on some of the world’s highest grades of lithium that have been found in geothermal waters. “Geothermal brine is a hot, concentrated saline solution that has circulated through very hot rocks and become enriched with elements such as lithium, boron and potassium.” … and there are plans to extract potentially significant lithium resources from the brine in the region’s mines.
We’ve addressed lithium, its uses, and its supply issue in several of our previously written articles. If you’re looking for more information on the mining and use of lithium, read, or re-read, these articles:
- Lithium Needed for Hybrid Mining Equipment Batteries. Hybrid drive mining trucks, utilizing lithium-ion batteries, are in the works to help the environment — especially since these trucks have the opportunity to recuperate a considerable amount of energy downhill and store it in batteries.
- Wastewater from Hydraulic Fracturing May Be a New Source of Lithium. The lithium supply issue is so concerning because lithium is a poorly concentrated mineral that is difficult to obtain. Scientists may have discovered an alternative means of obtaining lithium, from an unlikely source.
- Lithium Still a Valued Source, Encouraging Old Mines to Re-Open. According to the USGS, lithium supply security has become a top priority for technology companies in the United States and Asia over the past couple of years. Strategic alliances and joint ventures among technology companies and exploration companies continue to be established to ensure a reliable, diversified supply of lithium for battery suppliers and vehicle manufacturers.
- Lithium Producing Countries Becoming Lithium Battery Producers? Rather than dig out minerals and see others abroad get rich with them, some countries want to keep production at home and profits in their own pockets. Because the countries have the supply of lithium, they want to attract companies that could transform the raw materials into chemical components used in batteries and electronics.
- Nickel Mining Growing Due to Lithium Ion Batteries. Some predictions suggest that electric vehicles will make up more than 10% of vehicles by 2025, most of which will be powered by nickel-containing Li-ion batteries. Using nickel in car batteries offers greater energy density and storage at lower cost, delivering a longer range for vehicles.
If you’re curious as to how manufacturers of lithium-ion batteries are using the latest technology to improve their safety, consistency and efficiency and to deliver high quality, reliable products, see this battery manufacturing technology page with a link to an interactive workflow.