First, the question of whether or not we will be running out of lithium any time soon is what fuels our plans for the future. There is some debate regarding the amount of lithium available in economically-viable deposits, but geologist R. Keith Evans estimates that there is 28.4 million tons of pure lithium still in the ground. This translates to about 150 million tons of lithium carbonate (the stuff we actually use for batteries). The current world demand for lithium is about 16,000 tons of lithium/68,000 tons of lithium carbonate. And, furthermore, lithium is recyclable. The US, for example, recycles 98% of its car batteries.
So, the issue of what will be done if or when the lithium runs out hasn’t been approached much, especially since lithium can be recycled. It is likely that we haven’t even developed the technology to eventually replace lithium batteries, but it is not unrealistic to assume that producers of electric vehicles may try to research even less expensive, lighter forms of energy storage.
Even if we do run out of lithium supplies, we will find another technology. Humans have the ability to think of new technologies in order to survive and my guess is that this will happen. I do not think getting the energy is a problem, it is how to stop the energy from contaminating the earth with its waste.
The US recycles 98% of its lead-acid car batteries, providing a major source of lead. It is not the case (yet) that lithium batteries are recycled in large volume.
The primary holders of lithium reserves are Chile and Bolivia, so what happens with lithium in the near to medium term will depend significantly on what they choose to do, and on their relations with consumers like the USA.
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