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Lithium has been dubbed the "white gold" of the future for its critical role in batteries in general and the development of electric vehicles in particular.

It is a unique metal with a range of extermely important properties, including the fact that it is very soft and is the lightest metal with the lowest density of all metals.

However, its critical role in the "green transition" presents critical challenges, and I'm looking at some of those challenges on this page.

Lithium and its cost

Lithium is seen as a major part of breaking free from fossil fuels. But at what cost?

In this article German aerial photographer Tom Hegen's images show the traces on the earth's surface of lithium extraction in lithium evaporation sites in the "lithium triangle" of Chile, Bolivia and Argentina.

And, as reported in the article "In Chile’s Atacama salt flats, mining consumes, contaminates and diverts scarce water resources away from local communities. The production of lithium through evaporation ponds uses a lot of water - around 21 million litres per day. Approximately 2.2 million litres of water is needed to produce one ton of lithium. The extraction of lithium has caused water-related conflicts with different communities, such as the community of Toconao in the north of Chile."

Lithium fields

Is there enough lithium?

Even a fairly rough estimate of how much lithium will be needed to achieve the green transition some envisage on the necessary timescales flags the need for greatly increased rates of mining/extraction.

Can such rates be achieved?

This article from the Boston Consulting Group outlines the scale of the problem.

And this article reports that General Motors plans to invest $650 million into Lithium Americas to secure access to lithium. The article also quotes Simon Moores (CEO of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence) as saying "It takes two years or more to build a giga factory and 10 years-plus to finance and build a lithium mine."

Salinas Grandes salt flats, Argentina