Lithium shortage

March 27, 2023, 7:32 a.m.

The electric car market is driving insatiable demand for lithium. But a supply crisis of the wonder metal could dent the world’s chances of meeting its climate goals.

Demand for electric cars is soaring and, in turn, straining supplies of lithium, which is used in the vehicles' massive batteries.

Lithium-ion batteries are a key part of every feasible path to reducing the climate crisis. Electric vehicles can help reduce the use of gasoline and diesel. Giant batteries can store electricity from wind and solar farms to displace coal and natural gas. The batteries' promise: the quality of life that fossil fuels have provided, minus the fossil fuels themselves.

While the Earth has plenty of lithium to go around, the supply needs to be extracted from brine pools and underground reserves, and current mining operations aren’t sufficient to keep up with the auto industry’s growing needs.

The world’s lithium reserves are theoretically sufficient to meet the expected rise in demand. However, this assumes all of the reserves can be brought into production, and that all of them are good enough for use in batteries, which is unlikely.

Lithium extraction requires very high volumes of water, and this is leading to problems around water stress – a situation where a region’s water resources are not enough to meet its needs.

More than half of today’s lithium production is in areas with high water stress.

Do you think this is a problem and if so, how should it be solved?