Researchers from the University of Michigan and Ford Motor Co. report in Journal of Industrial Ecology that even with a rapid and widespread adoption of electric vehicles powered by lithium-ion batteries, lithium resources are sufficient to support demand until at least the end of this century.
For their study, they assessed the global availability of lithium and compared it to the potential demand from large-scale global use of electric vehicles. The researchers compiled data on 103 deposits containing lithium, with an emphasis on 32 deposits that have a lithium resource of more than 100,000 metric tons each.
The data collected included deposit location, geologic type, dimensions and content of lithium, as well as the current status of production. Using the definition of a lithium resource as a deposit from which production is currently or potentially feasible economically, the researchers estimated a global lithium resource of about 39 million tons.
The second part of the study examined lithium demand for the same 90-year period (2010-2100). Demand was estimated under the assumption of two different growth scenarios for electric vehicles and other current battery and non-battery applications.
Areas studied related to demand were lubricating grease, frits and glass, air conditioning and portable batteries, as well as batteries for hybrid electric, plug-in hybrid electric and battery electric vehicles. The total demand for lithium was estimated to be in the range of 12-20 million tons, depending on assumptions regarding economic growth and recycling rates.
Even with a rapid and widespread adoption of electric vehicles powered by lithium-ion batteries, lithium resources are sufficient to support demand until at least the end of this century.—Gruber et al.
Gruber, P. W., Medina, P. A., Keoleian, G. A., Kesler, S. E., Everson, M. P. and Wallington, T. J. (2011), Global Lithium Availability. Journal of Industrial Ecology. doi: 10.1111/j.1530-9290.2011.00359.x