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  • Aug 9th 2011 at 7:48AM
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A team of researchers from the University of Michigan and Ford has assessed the global availability of lithium and compared it to the potential demand from widespread use of electric vehicles. The result? Don't you worry your pretty little head about it. The researchers concluded that sufficient lithium exist to power electric vehicles through until 2100 or beyond.

The researchers compiled data on 103 lithium-containing deposits. The data collected included deposit location, geologic type, dimensions and lithium content. Using this data, the researchers estimate global lithium reserves at 39 million tons. Additionally, the study examined lithium demand for a 90-year period (2010-2100) and estimates that total demand for the silver-white metal is in the range of 12 to 20 million tons, depending on assumptions regarding economic growth and recycling rates. These findings led the research team to conclude that:
Even with a rapid and widespread adoption of electric vehicles powered by lithium-ion batteries, lithium resources are sufficient to support demand until at least the end of this century.
Lithium, it seems, won't be the bottleneck in the plug-in vehicle push.
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University of Michigan and Ford researchers see plentiful lithium resources for electric vehicles

ANN ARBOR, Mich.-Researchers from the University of Michigan and Ford Motor Co. have assessed the global availability of lithium and compared it to the potential demand from large-scale global use of electric vehicles. The research findings, published in the current issue of the Journal of Industrial Ecology, conclude that sufficient resources of lithium exist for the next 90 years to supply a large-scale global fleet of electric vehicles through at least 2100.

The researchers compiled data on 103 deposits containing lithium, with an emphasis on 32 deposits that have a lithium resource of more than 100,000 metric tons each. Lithium is a key ingredient in the development of certain types of batteries, and is a key element of batteries used in hybrid and all-electric vehicles.

The data collected included deposit location, geologic type, dimensions and content of lithium, as well as the current status of production. Using the definition of a lithium "resource" as a deposit from which production is currently or potentially feasible economically, the researchers estimated a global lithium resource of about 39 million tons.

The second part of the study examined lithium demand for the same 90-year period (2010-2100). Demand was estimated under the assumption of two different growth scenarios for electric vehicles and other current battery and non-battery applications.

Areas studied related to demand were lubricating grease, frits and glass, air conditioning and portable batteries, as well as batteries for hybrid electric, plug-in hybrid electric and battery electric vehicles. The total demand for lithium was estimated to be in the range of 12-20 million tons, depending on assumptions regarding economic growth and recycling rates.

"Even with a rapid and widespread adoption of electric vehicles powered by lithium-ion batteries, lithium resources are sufficient to support demand until at least the end of this century," the researchers conclude in the paper.

The study's main authors were Paul Gruber and Pablo Medina. They conducted the research as part of a graduate student research project before graduating in 2010 from the U-M School of Natural Resources and Environment. The research partner was Ford Motor Co., the global automobile manufacturer based in Dearborn, Mich.

"We believe our assessment is a timely and comprehensive study that settles the question of whether the global resources are sufficient for electric vehicles using lithium-ion technology," said Gruber.

Other co-authors were U-M professors Gregory Keoleian of SNRE and Stephen Kesler, a professor emeritus of geological sciences, and two researchers from Ford: Mark Everson, the technical leader of the Manufacturing and Purchasing Strategy research group, and Timothy Wallington, technical leader of the Sustainability Science research group at Ford's Research and Innovation Center.

About the School of Natural Resources and Environment
The School of Natural Resources and Environment's overarching objective is to contribute to the protection of the Earth's resources and the achievement of a sustainable society. Through research, teaching and outreach, faculty, staff and students are devoted to generating knowledge and developing policies, techniques and skills to help practitioners manage and conserve natural and environmental resources to meet the full range of human needs on a sustainable basis. Visit: www.snre.umich.edu.

About Ford Motor Company
Ford Motor Co., a global automotive industry leader based in Dearborn, Mich., manufactures or distributes automobiles across six continents. With about 166,000 employees and about 70 plants worldwide, the company's automotive brands include Ford and Lincoln. The company provides financial services through Ford Motor Credit Co. For more information regarding Ford's products, visit: www.ford.com.

Planet Blue is U-M's overall sustainability program that includes efforts taking place in academic, research and operations programs. For more on this Presidential Initiative, visit www.sustainability.umich.edu.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 4 Years Ago
      It's also possible by 2100 we would be have economically viable lithium extraction form salt water a alot of stuff can happen in 90years... I mean 90years ago we barely had planes or moving pictures
      • 4 Years Ago
      20 million tons of lithium results to about 260 TWh of theoretical energy density that could be recycled rather than sent to landfill or incinerated. It's unfortunate that landfill or incineration is often considered before reprocessing. Hopefully we're starting to prefer reprocessing over just opening a new quarry sooner rather than later. In EU, 95 % of materials in cars needs to be recycled by 2015 with 85 % by 2006. San Francisco and Switzerland already recycle some 75 % of their total waste (not just scrapped cars). Unlike gasoline, lithium only takes millions of years to reprocess if it's incinerated to the air or dispersed to landfill.
        Ele Truk
        • 4 Years Ago
        Luckily, there are already steps being taken to insure that lithium is reused and recycled. Nissan is researching 2nd life for battery packs as grid leveling. Several sites are installing lithium battery recycling plants. I think by the time the current lithium battery packs expire, there will be at least a minimal afterlife infrastructure for them.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Yes, there is more than enough Lithium available for long long time. It is sad that people need to waste their time on such research due to the Swiss boiler-room operation of John Petersen and his endless misleading articles designed to pump up the value of a stock he owns lots of.
        Marco Polo
        • 4 Years Ago
        @Spec. While John Petersen may present controversial opinions, not all of which I agree with, he is an honest and sincere advocate who does not attempt to conceal his conflicts of interest. His evaluations of environmental issues are both, insightful and intelligent. While I don't agree with all John Petersens views, I would dispute your erroneous attack on his sincerity and integrity. In my dealings with John Petersen, I have found him to be often misguided, but always honest.
          • 4 Years Ago
          @Marco Polo
          Spec is 100% correct in his characterization of Mr. Peterson's misleading attacks on EV's and battery technology. In my daily battles with him he constantly ignores facts and figures that disagree with his obvious biases. Well reasoned arguments backed up with facts and links have no effect on him. He is a master of mis direction and avoiding the point, a lawyer through and through, winning being more important than facts.
          • 4 Years Ago
          @Marco Polo
          No, he is not honest. He cherry-picks data points. For example, for years he kept sticking to a data point of Li-Ions costing more than $1000/KWH. Despite people constantly pointing out that they could buy batteries for a much lower price than that, he just dismissed that as "rejects from from a Chinese battery factory". And when the Leaf was priced at $32,500 proving that there is no way the batteries were $1000/KWH (was the entire rest of the car only $8k?). It was a completely dishonest view of reality because he has a large investment in a competing technology (lead-carbon batteries). He also created an argument of sophistry suggesting all batteries should be used in hybrids since that would best reduce emissions. But the fundamental misguided premise of such an argument is that there is some limited number of batteries in the world. Why not just manufacture more batteries? Duh. Such arguments are fundamentally dishonest and driven by personal greed. He certainly has the right to say them just as I have the right to point out the fundamental dishonesty in his arguments and his financial conflict of interest.
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