Could a Lithium Shortage De-Rail the Electric Car Boom?

Yves here. One way to read this post is as an early indicator of the Lithium Gold Rush.

By James Stafford, editor of OilPrice. Originally published at OilPrice

We’ve gone electric, and there’s no going back at this point. Lithium is our new fuel, but like fossil fuels, the reserves we’re currently tapping into are finite—and that’s what investors can take to the bank.

You may think lithium got too popular too fast. You may suspect electric vehicles are too much buzz and not enough real future. You may, in short, be a lithium skeptic, one of many. And yet, despite this skepticism, lithium demand is rising steadily and sharply, and indications that a shortage may be looming are very real.

It won’t be a shortage in terms of ‘peak lithium’; rather, it will be a game of catch-up with the electric car boom, with miners hustling to explore and tap into new reserves.

Consider the number of battery gigafactories that are being built around the world. We have all heard about Tesla’s (NYSE: TSLA) Nevada facility that will at full capacityproduce enough batteries to power 500,000 electric cars per year by 2020.

This, as the carmaker proudly notes, is more than the global total lithium ion battery production for 2013. That’s a pretty impressive rate of demand growth over just three years—but this growth also represents the culmination of a sea change in the way we think.

Lithium is powering pretty much everything upon which our present depends on and our future is being built. It’s a viable alternative to petrol and in consumer electronics market segment alone, there is no sign of contraction—only expansion. Think the Internet of things, or smart houses, or smart cities, eventually. All these fascinating ideas are powered in some way by lithium.

But the real and present coup has been launched by electric vehicles. Forecasts from market research firms seem to be unanimous: EVs are on the rise, EVs are hot, and EVs will be increasingly in demand as people all over the world are eagerly encouraged to cut their carbon footprint. According toLux Research, the EV market will grow to $10 billion within the next four years. Navigant Research forecasts EV sales will rise from 2.6 million last year to more than 6 million in 2024. So, whether we like it or not, EVs are coming—and in force.

Indeed, says Nevada Energy Metals (TSX-V:BFF) executive Malcolm Bell, “It may be time to start worrying about a shortage, but it’s not a question of whether we have enough lithium—it’s a question of tapping into new reserves. Those who don’t see the supply wall looming, will hit with a resounding thud. Those who start tapping into new reserves will be extremely well-positioned for the future.”

From where everyone is standing right now, it may seem that the world’s got a fair amount of lithium. According to global estimates by the U.S. Geological Survey, there is enough lithium in the world – 13.5 million metric tons of it – to last us over 350 years in batteries

What’s missing from this prediction, however, is … the future, and indeed, the present. This calculation takes into account only the current rate of lithium ion battery usage. It does not account for the entrance of EVs into the mainstream. It does not account for Tesla, not to mention the growing ranks of Tesla rivals. And it most certainly doesn’t account for what is by all means a pending energy revolution that sees lithium as its leader.

Already, the present is clear: Demand is growing fast, faster than production, and for now this new demand is coming increasingly from the electric vehicle industry.

Tesla’s is by no means the only battery gigafactory out there. There are others being built around the world (at least 12, according to Benchmark Mineral Intelligence) and these gigafactories will raise the global demand for lithium batteries to some 122 GWh by 2020. That’s up from 35 GWh currently. It’s a phenomenal rise over a very short period of time.

In the U.S., there is already one gigafactory—Tesla’s, in Nevada—operating. A second gigafactory is in the works, courtesy of LG Chem. Brine-based lithium production in the country is concentrated in one place only, at least for now, and this place is Nevada. That’s because it is the only confirmed place with lithium deposits. The biggest actively mined area is the Clayton Valley, with presence from both mining majors like Albermarle (NYSE: ALB) and smaller, pure-play lithium miners such as Nevada Energy Metals. This makes Clayton Valley ground zero for the U.S. lithium rush and everyone wants to be there, but it’s the pure play miners who are set to explode onto this scene from an investors’ perspective.

Clayton Valley can hardly contain the lithium rush, and it is already time to look in the surrounding areas to secure future supply for soaring demand predictions. Those with enough foresight are diversifying their Nevada holdings and banking on geological clues that suggest there’s plenty more lithium in Tesla’s backyard, and whoever gets to it first will be far ahead of the game.

“When everyone starts paying attention to Nevada’s geology, we’ll see a land rush that makes the current one pale by comparison,” says Bell, who heads of acquisitions for Nevada Energy Metals, one of the pure play movers in this playing field that sees the wider lithium potential in Nevada.

“Nevada’s geothermal footprints are large and extend well beyond the Clayton Valley. If you put a mirror up to Clayton Valley, there is endless opportunity here. The real race here is to create the next U.S. lithium powerhouse,” says Bell.

How to Play Lithium

Look everywhere, and then look again. Securing an investment in Clayton Valley is a good place to start—but it’s also potentially only a flash in the pan. The best way to secure a foothold in lithium right now is to think outside the box and look for those companies who see the bigger picture but are also smart enough to keep one foot in the proven lithium hunting grounds.

But you also have to understand the supply and demand picture here.

Macquarie Research estimates that in 2015 demand for lithium already exceeded supply, while this year, lithium output will again fall short of demand.

In 2017, thanks to so much new production capacity the metal’s fundamentals will near an equilibrium, which will last for about a year before deficit rears its head once again—but this time the deficit will stick. Despite new efforts to ramp up supply, it will take a while before supply corresponds to the demand.

The future is pretty clear: We’re looking at a period of shortage, and shortage is where the savvy investors make real money. The lithium feeding frenzy has only just begun. Consumer electronics keeps it safe and steady, as always; the electric vehicle boom skews the demand picture dramatically, and the future’s energy storage and powerwall evolutions take it over the edge.

The reserves are there, and there’s geologists estimate there’s plenty of unproven reserves out there as well—it’s just a matter of who finds them first, and who starts extracting first.

Lithium has the purest of fundamentals of any ‘commodity’ out there, and the next oil barons look set to actually be lithium barons. In fact, in this respect, electric vehicles will likely be the cause of the next oil crisis. Demand and supply are simple and shockingly visible, and that means there’s a lot of new money floating around for lithium exploration. If you’re not a believer, the immediate future will sweep you off of your feet.


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  1. Jeff

    The big lie “EVs will be increasingly in demand as people all over the world are eagerly encouraged to cut their carbon footprint”. EVs don’t cut your carbon footprint – not driving a car does.
    Btw, where is the energy coming from to load all these lithium batteries? I don’t see many extra power plants being planned or coming online.
    Also one liter of fuel contains about 10 kWh of energy. A typical car battery (at almost 20 pounds) can deliver about 1 kWh before it needs a recharge. Lithium-ion batteries are at about 0.6 kWh per liter, so they have still 15x less energy density than fuel (and if you add in the losses due to charging, it’s rather closer to 20x).
    Two final figures. It is known since the ’70s that the average car has an average speed of 10mph or less (similar or lower to a bike), and its engine has an efficiency of around 1%. I don’t think we can do better in wasting time, money and resources than by driving cars.

    1. Rosario

      Yeah, couldn’t agree more. However rational the argument, this line of thinking often falls on deaf ears in the United States. The commitment to cars is a fetish in this country. If modest changes in public transit infrastructure (bus, rail, bike, etc.) and political efforts to pressure utilities to incorporate more renewable friendly policies were as enthralling as self-driving, electric cars we would be golden, but alas, consumption trumps efficiency and optimization.

      On to the power plant issue, living in KY, I recently went to an environmental meet-up where one individual was confused at the sight of a person driving a Tesla with a “Friends of Coal” license plate (their industry needs all the help it can get). It only occurred to them later that the load provided by the car’s batteries would increase electricity demand dramatically in an environment still relatively dominated by coal. For the Tesla owner, likely a state utility executive, this improved their bottom line.

      I chalk up a great deal of people’s assuming environmental benefits owning electric cars to engineering and scientific ignorance.

    2. Steve Gunderson

      My friend in California recharges his Nissan Leaf at night when his electricity charges are lower.

        1. Synoia

          Study baseload and non-baseload tarriffs.

          The largest user of electricity in the South, including CA is Air Conditioning in the noon to 6pm time.

          Recharging cars will not touch that demand curve.

    3. Steven

      Also not a big fan of cars. But as they say ‘Mistakes were made’ – and we have to live with them (i.e. road vs. rail networks, suburban sprawl, etc) until they can be corrected. The best way to do that is probably the EV. I’ve driven a Volt for more than 3 years at about 6000 miles per year. With the exception of 2 – 3 gallons of gas a year I’ve burned by choice the rest of those miles have come from electricity generated by 10 year old solar panels.

    4. oliverks

      The energy efficiency of electric cars is much better than gas powered cars, so you don’t need as much energy to drive an electric car.

      Also at 10mph, the electric car will be more like 70% efficient not 1%.

      1. CG

        The efficiency of a coal power plant from which the electricity for that electric car was possibly made is between 30% – 40%. Even if the electric motor in the car is 70% efficient the overall rate has to be less than 30%, and then there’s line transmission loss and presumably battery losses as well. The electrical grid is undercapitalized already and we’re to hang our car usage on it as well?
        I’m no fan of cars however they’re powered.

    5. different clue

      I also am of the understanding that lithium is not a source of energy in particular for the same reason that batteries are not a source of energy in general. A battery based around lithium can only store up some energy that is put into it and that energy had to be brought to it from somewhere outside of it to begin with.

      About the 1% energy-efficiency of driving an internal combustion engine car as against the 70% energy-efficiency of driving an electric car: wasn’t this the whole reason for inventing the hybridized engine-electric car? To run an engine at its most efficiently sweet-spot setting and use it to charge and/or recharge a reasonably small battery system? And use that battery system to actually drive the car? And when the battery was near-totally discharged, to have the engine cut on and recharge the battery? And also to brake the car by having it drive a “braking generator” feeding that recaptured kinetic energy of forward motion being forcibly slowed down . . . back into the battery?

      So just what exactly is the reason for this sudden push for strictly-electric cars all of a sudden?

      1. jonboinAR

        As near as I’ve been able to figure, the series hybrid that you’re describing gets little respect because it’s not “pure” electric. The owner still is driving a car that burns gas and loses green-cred so doing. The other problem it has, also an image problem, is that the most successful model is put out by GM, carries the “Chevy” brand, and has the somewhat clumsy name, “Volt”. It just isn’t sexy like “Tesla”. Which is a shame because, by all accounts, it’s a really great car as cars go and nearly gets most drivers off of gas altogether.

        1. different clue

          One of the benefits of living in a rich little University City in SOUTHEAST MICHIGAN is that you can meet the most amazing people sometimes by pure accident. I random-walked into our Historic Movie Theater one night and discovered the tail end of a speech and booksigning event that had been held by Bob Lutz. BOB LUTZ! Of course I bought a book and asked him to sign it. How could I not?

          He also talked with me for a minute or so. I began by admitting my total ignorance of car technology and then asked wouldn’t it be great if they designed a hybrid car where the engine ran at a best most-efficient unchanging sweet spot of highest fuel-efficiency and was attached to both the battery and the electric motor by a smooth variable splitter letting the engine send what current was needed straight to the motor while sending the rest of it into the battery. And when the battery was fully charged, the engine cut off and the battery ran the motor all by itself until it was nearly totally discharged. At which point the engine would cut on again and smoothly variably-split its energy between driving the motor and recharging the battery until the battery war fully recharged again and round and round.

          And he told me as best as I could understand that the Volt does a version of that . . . that the engine runs a generator which drives the motor. But it wasn’t quite all the way variable-splitted to do what I suggested. And the engine can be left entirely off so that the car can be driven short distances on battery power. But there was to be no infinitely-smooth variable power-splitting between running the motor and recharging the battery at the same time. He felt that wouldn’t really work and I had to accept that because he is the Car Guy and I am not even a car owner.

          1. jonboinAR

            You met and conversed with Bob Lutz! I’m envious. The great thing about the Volt model, the thing that GM either can’t seem to or won’t bother to get across to portion of the driving public that’s interested in driving more “green”, is that the Volt, by achieving something like 50 miles on unassisted battery power, allows the great majority of owners to drive electric-only nearly all of the time. They use a wee speck of gasoline really, in a month or year’s time. An added benefit is that the battery is smaller than in those electric cars that are trying to get 200 miles/ charge, so manufacturing each Volt consumes less of the becoming-precious Lithium resource.

            But all of this is more complicated to explain than a 30 second commercial can handle, seemingly, so the Volt-model of hybrid car remains a puzzlement to the general public. Meanwhile those really determined to drive “green” can’t seem to stand the idea of using a little bit of gasoline.

    6. PapaBear

      There’s a couple of significant errors in your numbers. If you look at civilian fleet averages, the average speed is not 10 mph. Not even close. In congested cities, some small subset of cars will see that. The national average speed is about 30 mph ( claims 32 mph). Engine efficiency is way over 1% – even for the worst gas guzzlers. A good average efficiency number to claim is between 20% and 30%. Some hybrid cars will peak out in the high 30’s (

  2. westernworld

    unless lithium is replaced by something different. with all the ongoing research into battery technology and all the noise about supper batteries of the near future a lithium shortage just might hasten these projects and there goes your lithium bonanza.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Yes, an obvious issue for lithium producers is the potential for a breakthrough in another related technology. Having said that, the most likely game changer is metal-air batteries, which potentially have the energy density of petroleum. However, if there is a breakthrough, then lithium-air would be the most likely option chosen for mobile devices, cars and aircraft for cost and weight reasons.

    2. Dave

      I just happen to own the patent on Urine Salts production. My wife constantly belittles my experiments in the bathroom. Still haven’t gotten electricity out of it yet.
      But when I do, I am going to be one rich hombre.

  3. TH

    One may keep an eye on redox flow batteries compared to the more-or-less dry cells.
    For stationary energy storage Vanadium or Zinc flow batteries may be easier to handle and cheaper despite there somewhat lower energy density than Lithium based batteries.

  4. PlutoniumKun

    The Lithium Gold Rush is already up and running. As one example, a Canadian company is currently surveying deposits in the mountains in Ireland and according to the company, they have already pre-sold any lithium mined to a Chinese battery company. Its an obvious indicator of a ‘gold rush’ mentality because by any standard Ireland would be a high cost location for mining. The deposits are deep and within granite, unlike the surface deposits found in high desert areas in Nevada, Bolivia or Chile, and the licensing and permits would be difficult and expensive compared to the US or South America due to EU environmental directives (far stronger than the equivalents in the US) and a relatively high population in the areas of search.

    1. Dave


      1. ISIS offshoots are going to appear in Boliva. Perhaps they can dredge up some old Shining Path revolutionaries from Peru and give them new uniforms?

      2. That will require an immediate U.S. military presence in the Andean Republic to fight for the freedom of all those funny looking derby hat wearing Indians. Maybe the dry lakebed of lithium can become an airbase?

      3. Also, the U.S. State Department is going to have to intercede on behalf of the Bolivan People to help them assert their longstanding rights to land access to the Pacific ocean. Even though there are four admirals in the Bolivian navy, they still have no sea access. Now that’s optimism!

      4.As part of our R2P the Bolivan People, access to their giant lake of Lithium salts will be required, perhaps with a new IMF funded Lithium port on the Pacific.

      1. different clue

        ISIS in Andean South America? Are there any Muslim populations there for ISIS to base itself among? It seems an awfully unlikely place for ISIS to try sending people to take something over.
        I would be more concerned about ISIS anchoring itself into Albanian and other Balkan – Turkish organize crime networks within Europe itself.

          1. different clue

            I have said before and I will say it again. A blog thread is a poor place to attempt sarcasm. There are no facial expression cues, no tone of voice cues, no nothing to indicate when something is sarcasm or not. That is why people attempting sarcasm on a blog thread which is no place to attempt sarcasm have learned to use some kiind of (sarc tag) or other warning.

            You failed to do that. Your fault, your fail.

  5. Skippy

    Dozens of reports are available on the ecological impact of lithium mining. Unfortunately, many of them are influenced by the perspective of the organizations or authors releasing them. Reducing the available information to studies carried out by government bodies and research institutes around the world, a picture emerges nonetheless:

    Elemental lithium is flammable and very reactive. In nature, lithium occurs in compounded forms such as lithium carbonate requiring chemical processing to be made usable.
    Lithium is typically found in salt flats in areas where water is scarce. The mining process of lithium uses large amounts of water. Therefore, on top of water contamination as a result of its use, depletion or transportation costs are issues to be dealt with. Depletion results in less available water for local populations, flora and fauna.
    Toxic chemicals are used for leaching purposes, chemicals requiring waste treatment. There are widespread concerns of improper handling and spills, like in other mining operations around the world.
    The recovery rate of lithium ion batteries, even in first world countries, is in the single digit percent range. Most batteries end up in landfill.
    In a 2013 report, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) points out that nickel and cobalt, both also used in the production of lithium ion batteries, represent significant additional environmental risks.

    A 2012 study titled “Science for Environment Policy” published by the European Union compares lithium ion batteries to other types of batteries available (lead-acid, nickel-cadmium, nickel-metal-hydride and sodium sulphur). It concludes that lithium ion batteries have the largest impact on metal depletion, suggesting that recycling is complicated. Lithium ion batteries are also, together with nickel-metal-hydride batteries, the most energy consuming technologies using the equivalent of 1.6kg of oil per kg of battery produced. They also ranked the worst in greenhouse gas emissions with up to 12.5kg of CO2 equivalent emitted per kg of battery. The authors do point out that “…for a full understanding of life cycle impacts, further aspects of battery use need to be considered, such as length of usage, performance at different temperatures, and ability to discharge quickly.”

    Moving on… Mining Lithium for batteries is no greener than mining copper so there you go.

    Disheveled Marsupial… how water scarcity and the regional environmental aspects wrt extraction and refining is going to control all outcomes, tho’ some will get quite wealthy…

  6. dk

    Recycling lithium?

    Briefly, it’s doable but will require channels and infrastructure. Many components are environmentally toxic, accidents will happen.

    General overview of battery recycling, including Li-ion, Dec 2014:

    From the farsighted Waste Management Corp, in 2011:

    [apparently talking about small consumer batteries] While lithion [sic] is 100% recyclable, currently economics do not add up to recycle it

    Recycled lithium is as much as five times the cost of lithium produced from the least costly brine based process. It is not competitive for recycling companies to extract lithium from slag, or competitive for the OEMs to buy at higher price points from recycling companies. Though lithium is 100% recyclable, currently, recycled lithium reports to the slag and is currently used for non-automotive purposes, such as construction, or sold in the open-markets. However, with the increasing number of EVs entering the market in the future and with a significant supply crunch, recycling is expected to be an important factor for consideration in effective material supply for battery production.

    Closed loop recycling, where the recycled materials are sold back to OEMs, is likely to help against potential price fluctuation of metals or compounds. EV battery recycling is expected to play a significant part of the value chain by 2016 when large quantities of EV batteries will come through the waste stream for recycling.

    1. jsn

      Thanks for the links! This highlights the central problem of “energy transition”: it will not be viable in a capitalist economy.

      The technologies exist to make an energy transition now but implementation would require distributions of resource constraints that those made powerful through money will never countenance. So long as money can buy power, we’re locked in to capitalism.

      At the same time, the distribution of economic externalities from capitalism are the fountainhead of the Anthropocene extinction event we’ve recently entered.

  7. EndOfTheWorld

    Maybe hydrogen fuel cell cars will step into the void caused by this bottleneck. No noise, no pollution, H2O the only byproduct. Of course some kind of fossil fuel is needed to make the hydrogen, but who knows what they can come up with in this regard.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      The problem with fuel cells (and many other alternatives) is that they mostly depend on catalysts such as platinum, so you just set off a gold rush for another metal.

      1. Arizona Slim

        My father did research on fuel cells that relied on platinum-based catalysts. Believe me when I say that platinum is NOT cheap.

        1. EndOfTheWorld

          Palladium is the cheaper alternative. All cars produced today use one of these two for the catalytic converter.

    2. Synoia

      Hydrogen as a fuel is more difficult than Lithium.

      It is hard to liquefy. This consumes a lot of energy.

      It requires very high pressures and very thick bottles walls to contain a reasonable amount. Corrosion of the bottles is a frightening prospect.

      When it expands its gets hotter. Any hydrogen bottle failure is a very serious explosion threat. Something which could be exploited by radical groups of people.

      The best energy storage we know is the chemical bond. Alcohols (Methyl, Ethyl, Proponal, Butanol) are the best batteries we have. Ethel is the least poisonous. Other Chemical bonds are also good stores of energy, such as the benzine ring – the aromatic hydrocarbons.

      However, ALL aromatic hydrocarbons are both poisonous and carcinogenic.

      1. EndOfTheWorld

        Hyundai and Toyota have H models available now. According to car mag Edmunds, H is about as safe as gasoline, which is pretty dangerous itself if you think about it.

        1. Kurt Sperry

          Indeed “gasoline” would seem crazily dangerous as a fuel to carry around in vehicles if we hadn’t already been enured to its common use. Anyone proposing “Let’s put this energy dense, highly poisonous and flammable, potentially highly explosive liquid hydrocarbon inside a “tank” made of thin sheet metal into vehicles inches away from human passengers likely to be involved in high speed crashes.” would be thought totally mad. Don’t get me started on the craziness of glass windshields!

      2. different clue

        Several months ago here in a thread someone mentioned that one of the more obscure oil companies was researching whether there was any possible use for the petcoke left over after the oil had been refined for every possible useful thing. And they found that if the petcoke were “activated like activated charcoal” to contain too-many-to-count little micropores, that hydrogen gas would stick to the carbon surface of all these micropores allowing hydrogen to pack in so tightly as to become a “para-liquid” at sea-level temperatures and pressures. If that is true, perhaps that research could be revived and carried forward so that ordinary tanks full of activated petcoke could be used to contain naturally “para-liquidized” hydrogen at ambient temperature and pressure. The hydrogen could then be drawn back out as needed to power whatever engine or motor process was used to drive the car.

    3. JSacks

      Agreed, lithium is an interim hack before we get to the inevitable. Deserts covered in solar powered hydrogen production from seawater. Every problem with hydrogen can be overcome if we think big. Batteries are thinking small and coming up with yesterday’s solution to today’s problem.

  8. Birch

    Thank you for the post.
    I’m an off-grid hermit, living the solar dream. I searched for LiFePO4 batteries in Canada for years. There’s one very small company in Florida that hand makes them, and maybe sells them through a distributor in North Vancouver. Other than that, the Canadian government does not seem to be allowing them over the border. Can’t buy them from Japan[Samsung/Kyocera], can’t buy them from Tesla, can’t buy them from the Aussies. Ask local off-grid specialists and they say Lithium is a ways off yet; not even a reality.
    My electrical closet begs to differ.
    Gold rushes will seem benign.

  9. gardener1

    The electric car thing pisses me off completely, as it solves no problem whatsoever – just gives us a different kind of car. The car itself is the problem.

    Electric cars still require roadways, fueling points, batteries, bridges, highways, parking lots, tire stores, garages, car loan financial servicers, auto insurance – all the same dilapidated flotsam as petrol fuel cars.

    What people need is transit systems, employment, and housing that is not car dependent.

    Cars are the problem > NOT the solution.

    1. oh

      Agree completely. People in the US don’t seem to understand the value of mass transportation. They’re in love with the automobile.

        1. Paid Minion

          Unfortunately, for your point of view, the majority of people can’t do their jobs (especially out here in BFE) without one, no matter how good “Public Transportation” is.

          The company HQ is 20 miles away from my worksite. Which is 25 miles away (in a different direction) from my part time, 1099 deal.

          Some people on this site seem to have the idea that people were forced by gunpoint, kicking and screaming, by Detroit into their cars. Not in my case. I’m mostly seeing policies being passed by social engineers to artificially jack up the price of cars, to force the wretched refuse into public transportation, and back into “urban cores”.

          One man’s “incentive” is another man’s “tax”.

          1. a different chris

            Not sure who you are talking about – nobody was “forced”, that never works over the long haul. We were seduced.

            >The company HQ is 20 miles away from my worksite.

            Why do you ever have to go to HQ ever in this new world of full time full spectrum connectivity? (that’s not a serious question, of course…)

      1. RUKidding

        A lot of us would LOVE to use public transportation, but it often doesn’t exist. Or if it does, it doesn’t offer enough routes over a long enough period of the day to be reliable. I use public transport whenever I can, but I am very limited due to the lack of routes to take me where I need to go.

        Believe me, many citizens would adapt to utilizing public transportation if it was adequate and met our needs. We simply don’t have it, except in parts of the North East corridor, San Francisco, Chicago and a few other major metropolitan areas.

        We’ve been screwed over by BigOil and the auto industry. Try taking them on. It’s not easy. Los Angeles, at one time, had a great public transportation system, but Detroit made them destroy it. This was early in the 20th C. LA has only recently built a somewhat adequate public transportation system at high cost, and it’s only useful depending on where you live and where you’re going. We’ve been screwed over.

      2. jsn

        One of the salutary effects of the GFC has been to wean the next generation of Americans from their dwindling infatuation with the car.

        Most the younger people I know view cars as necessary toaster like appliances that suck their minuscule incomes to get them between the rooms they can’t afford and the jobs that don’t pay them enough.

        More and more of them are avoiding getting drivers licenses and looking for ways to have life quality with that constraint.

        1. Arizona Slim

          I have a couple of young neighbors with non-running cars parked in their driveways. One gets around by bus. The other prefers to use a bicycle.

          Both are licensed drivers.

          1. Paid Minion

            Im paying for six cars, one way or the other. Plus an old truck, for whenever somebody needs to haul something.

            Two of them are my daughters and one is on “loan” to the future SIL. Because they aren’t paid enough at their full time jobs to pay for housing and transport at the same time.

            1. jsn

              Ouch! And this model is sustainable as long as you can afford it, which I have a hunch isn’t forever!

    2. different clue

      The more user-friendly mass transit becomes available, the less driving becomes necessary. Abundant available mass-transit at all feasible times and places would reduce the amount of driving necessary to where cars would become a smaller problem which could be managed by making more energy-efficient the cars-still-needed.

    1. different clue

      Well well well. More money for China. Between its present copper interests and its future lithium interests in Afghanistan, one wonders how much China would be willing to pay the US government to have America send a steady supply of “Hessiamericans” over to Afghanistan to “keep Afghanistan Chinese”. You can bet that if Clinton gets elected, the US government posture will be “pay us what you can, we’ll send all you want.” Whereas if Trump gets elected, there is a faint hope that the US government posture would be to let China keep its own peace in Afghanistan if China wants the lithium and the copper that badly.

      And you know, that could work out for all concerned. If China sent a million troops into Afghanistan, they would go in with “Tien An Men” rules of engagement. I think China could get the Taliban sorted out fairly hard and fast. Exterminate them all and exterminate anyone who might possibly support them . . . until the Afghan population is reduced to people with enough sense to leave the Chinese copper and lithium mines and extraction railroads very strictly alone.

  10. Rufus T. Firefly

    I’m wondering how many folks are actually finding ways to invest in CNG/ LNG micro-turbine hybrid component manufacturers. Volvo’s Chinese owners were apparently looking into this (note, how Uber’s using Volvos in their Pittsburgh experiment?) Wrightspeed, Capstone & Nikola in the US and Tata overseas all seem to be working on the idea (with no mention of anybody awaiting graphene/ carbon nanotube battery packs? Autonomous methane micro-turbine/ hybrids for city bus, garbage disposal & Uber does seem to go along with government promoted escalation in fracking, after the recent smack-down of dissenting down-ticket local candidates in Philadelphia?

  11. Vatch

    In the long run, we need to reduce the Earth’s population. Fewer people will mean fewer energy users, and that will mean less demand for coal, oil, natural gas, lithium, and uranium. Fewer people will mean that renewable sources of energy might eventually have a chance of satisfying our energy needs. Needless to say, reducing the birth rate now will have little effect on current energy demand. However, positive action now on population will have an enormously beneficial effect on people’s lives in future decades. We need to stop kicking the can down the road.

    1. oho

      stop causing cognitive dissonance.

      As a litmus test approved liberal I’m supposed to help the planet, ie zero population growth—especially since I’d like to see modern civilization last at a minimum until 3066 AD.

      But I’m also supposed to be PC, ie not criticize non-Western cultures with >2 fertility rates who don’t practice family planning.

      My brain hurts from thinking. I think I’ll go play Pokemon Go instead.

      1. Paid Minion

        My favorite PBS show of all time featured a stuggling poor Muslim family from somewhere in the Middle East, trying to live in Boston.

        The wife had just had her baby. The hubby is in talking to the welfare people, telling them that he doesn’t want his wife to work. Social worker is telling him that if she doesn’t work, she will lose her check. What to do?

        The ever so helpful Social worker says (and I quote) “If she was pregnant, she wouldn’t have to work……”

        You could literally see the cartoon light bulb come on, over the guy’s head. Another anchor baby, comin’ right up……..

    2. different clue

      We have too much consumption “here” AND too much population “there”. Both have to be addressed at the same time. As big parts of the Third World get middle class, they lower their population growth and raise their consumption growth, thereby becoming part of the too-much-consumption “here” problem.

      Perhaps we need a word for the combined problem of growing population and rising consumption force-multiplying eachother’s worst effects. A word like “populumption” or “consumulation” or something.

  12. jfleni

    Lithium might not be too important; the latest DARPA research shows that
    ordinary rhubarb juice (!!) can, with other ordinary substances power batteries for homes and cars.

    Dip your finger in the tank, if the rhubarb is nicely sour, off you go!

    They even show a diagram of what to do.

  13. Adam Eran

    Before we put our 401Ks in Lithium stock, let’s remember the technology is still in flux. For example, there’s the rhubarb battery.

    Yes, I know, I’ve probably started the rhubarb rush…

    1. different clue

      Speaking of rhubarb, rhubarb is in the same plant-family as buckwheat. Does that mean it has seeds similar to buckwheat? What if rhubarb could be bred and selected to have seeds as big and nutritious and delicious as buckwheat? And de-hullable in the same special de-hulling machinery already needed and already existing to de-hull buckwheat right now today? And if such rhubarb plants could produce an economically meaningful amount of “rhubuckwheat” per plant?

      Rhubarb could become a perennial grain plant! Maybe this is something the permaculture hobbyists should get to work on. Studying every rhubarb plant for those which happen to produce tasty or big or nutritious seeds or seeds in meaningful amounts. And then breed all these promising rhubarbs together to get a perennial grain-producing rhubarb plant. Rhubuckwheat!

  14. Optimader

    The answer is yes. Li based battery technology as a transportation storage scheme remains a curiosity.

    BTW, Mr Stafford’s first sentence, Lithium is not a fuel
    “No going back”
    Never say never, tweaking the fuel in a liquid fuel distribution network is a lower barrier

  15. Don W

    The one area Lithium batteries differ from gasoline. They are much easier to replace. Going from liquid fuel internal combustion to electric involves changing the whole drive train and fueling infrastructure. Switching from a lithium battery pack to some other battery pack requires no changes to the rest of the vehicle. Depending on the vehicle design it could be switched after market in minutes.

  16. Uncle tungsten

    Bolivia has heaps of proven, easy extract lithium. Not for export as raw material. BYO refinery and battery plant and value add to Bolivia’s people. I guess that makes them a target for “intervention and peace keeping”.

    Actually lithium is best where space and energy density is a premium, cars power tools etc. Better more recyclable options exist for housing and industry.

  17. Lyle

    This story was written a few years ago about rare earths. It appears to be based on a template of resource shortages. As hinted in comments and we know from oil raise the price and supply comes out of the wordwork. this happened after the scare that China controlled all the rare earths a few years ago, and indeed in oil. If you look at the richness of ore, processed for metals, it has gone way down in the 20th century, but new processes are found to refine the ores. For lithium in particular this article reports on a deposit in Wy, near Rock Springs So at least with present technology it is more a question of economics rather than the supply of the element

  18. Kman

    Hydrogen fueled cars would be most practical using on board electrolysis . Problem is the fuel efficiency of same , and the sun like temperatures of the combustion process . Would be nice if we looked in that direction . Doesn’t the heat from H2 combustion create enough energy to split water molecules ?

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