Alternative energy choice
Lithium is not much to look at. It’s a soft and light, silver-white metal known for its use in mood-stabilising drugs. But the 25th most abundant element on Earth could, one day, help cure the world of its addiction to oil – as a key ingredient in batteries.
US geologists last week released the results of a survey showing around a trillion dollars worth of minerals in Afghanistan, which could make the war-ravaged state “the Saudi Arabia of lithium”, according to a Pentagon memo. But mining and technology firms have long been looking at lithium through eyes lit with dollar signs.
Lithium-based batteries are used in everything from mobile phones and laptops, to iPods and iPads, as well as military and medical hardware. They have even made their way into the human body, powering pacemakers. But the main reason companies are betting on lithium is the projected explosion in the number of electric and hybrid electric vehicles.
Nissan, Honda and Toyota are among car-makers now gambling that electric vehicles, with their zero tailpipe emissions, will catch on and start to drive traditional gas-guzzlers off the road. All will need batteries. Lots of batteries.
The battery market is set to grow massively. Lithium-ion rechargeable batteries, and potentially new batteries such as lithium-air, are seen as the best option by many manufacturers over other battery types as they are lightweight and efficient, and can hold more power.
The lithium-ion battery market for electric and hybrid vehicles is estimated to be set to grow from 2,400 units in 2008 to 1.53 million units by 2015.