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Bolivia Is the Saudi Arabia of Lithium

Soulskill posted more than 5 years ago | from the also-the-nepal-of-strontium dept.

Power 291

tcd004 writes "You can literally scrape valuable lithium off the ground of many Bolivian salt flats. The country is poised to be the center of world lithium battery production, reaping the benefit of the metal's skyrocketing value. 'The US Geological Survey says 5.4 million tons of lithium could potentially be extracted in Bolivia, compared with 3 million in Chile, 1.1 million in China and just 410,000 in the United States. ... Ailing automakers in the United States are pinning their hopes on lithium. General Motors next year plans to roll out its Volt, a car using a lithium-ion battery along with a gas engine. Nissan, Ford and BMW, among other carmakers, have similar projects.' However, the government fears foreign countries might exploit their natural resources, so for the time being, the salt flats remain untouched."

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Can't Help but be Supportive (5, Insightful)

explosivejared (1186049) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761189)

I generally lean towards advocating market based solutions and free trade in most economic situations. Coming from rural southwestern Virginia, however, and seeing the grip the coal industry has on politics in some areas around here I know how people can really be disadvantaged by mismanagement of natural resources. I also think back to the damage done by the informal imperialism in the Middle-East at the hands of BP (formerly known as the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company) and their like. In this case I can't help but be supportive of Morales' efforts to put these lithium reserves to work for the Bolivian campesinos. Having mineral resources has proven to be a curse just as often as it has been a blessing in modern history. Here's to hoping one Latin American government can get it right.

Re:Can't Help but be Supportive (5, Informative)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761351)

Support is good. But maybe you should also be sending them a warning of what coal mining has done to your area?

If you're from Virginia, have you had a chance to witness any of the mountain top removal strip mining operations [youtube.com] in West Virginia? There's an informative series on it at VBS.tv [youtube.com] . Don't worry, they don't leave the non-fertile shale rock bare after they're done. They spray a grass seed in mutant green nitrogen fertilizer shit all over it so it can look unnatural for a year before transforming back into a Martian landscape.

Re:Can't Help but be Supportive (5, Interesting)

explosivejared (1186049) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761469)

I am actually very aware of strip mining practices. My father actually works at one, funnily enough. It was a matter of economics and not ideals which is rather disheartening, but we had mountains of debt and there aren't exactly a lot of good paying jobs to go around. Moral of the story, take care of natural resources on lands so people aren't left with tough decisions of supporting a family or soul-crushing environmental destruction like my dad was.

Re:Can't Help but be Supportive (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27761549)

If this [youtube.com] isn't proof that welfare is a bad idea, then I don't know what is. Filthy negro beasts are too stupid to feed their kids when Popeye's is closed.

Re:Can't Help but be Supportive (0, Troll)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761617)

Pass pass pass the buck, off to someone else...
I got paid, I don't give a shit, economics is hell...
We need food and we need heat, what are we to do...
Screw the farm, screw the axe, I'll take what I need from you...

Re:Can't Help but be Supportive (5, Insightful)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761643)

My father actually works at one, funnily enough. It was a matter of economics and not ideals which is rather disheartening, but we had mountains of debt and there aren't exactly a lot of good paying jobs to go around.

I don't mean to attack you or your father (or even the region as a whole) but how self sustaining is strip mining? I mean, has a generation or two of jobs and income been worth something that will forever be exposed rock? It's plain to me that even the timber industry would have lasted longer.

I don't want to sound preachy a la The Giving Tree (I realize I do) but our ancestors saw those mountain top ecosystems as worthless ... and now maybe we see them differently. Bolivia should be wary of losing their salt flats and deserts even if they think they are wastelands. Limit strip mining and plan for the future, even if it's just setting aside funds to deal with inevitable environmental impacts. Even if it's using 10% of your strip mining income to plant/repair forests in other parts of your state.

The money is drying up for West Virginia and what is left? West Virginia has many areas where there once were trees and snow and water runoff but for the sake of a few decades of jobs there is nothing ow but heavy metals in their drinking water ... possibly nothing for a long time. The world has been making poor decisions for far too long, think about your future.

Re:Can't Help but be Supportive (2, Interesting)

cayenne8 (626475) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761805)

"Bolivia should be wary of losing their salt flats and deserts even if they think they are wastelands. "

Well, Bolivia has other resources. Heck, I'm betting that one of the problems with opening up the salt flats for lithuim harvesting, is the cocaine industry there. I'm guessing they don't want the competition for US dollars?

:)

Re:Can't Help but be Supportive (2, Interesting)

explosivejared (1186049) | more than 5 years ago | (#27762053)

Oh no I understand your argument. Resource extraction of any kind is never sustainable on a long enough time scale. Any country, region, etc. that builds its economy entirely on resource extraction is doomed to one day be overrun by poverty. The sad thing is the decision to sacrifice the long term health of the are has already been made here for the most part. That's why I'm on board with Morales. He's one leader that has learned from history, at least in this respect.

Re:Can't Help but be Supportive (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27762071)

Resource extraction of any kind is never sustainable on a long enough time scale.

I'm not saying that WV or Bolivia could use the discussed areas for it but what about farming?

Re:Can't Help but be Supportive (2, Insightful)

conspirator57 (1123519) | more than 5 years ago | (#27762133)

What about making lithium batteries in Bolivia? Or making fair trade practices part of any extraction contracts.

Re:Can't Help but be Supportive (4, Insightful)

russotto (537200) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761891)

Support is good. But maybe you should also be sending them a warning of what coal mining has done to your area?

Imagine what West Virginia would be like _without_ coal mining, however. Very pretty, I'm sure. But certainly far poorer.

Same goes for Bolivia. They want to preserve the natural beauty of their salt flats or stick it to the developed countries or whatever, they can do so. But that lithium will do them no good in the ground.

Re:Can't Help but be Supportive (4, Interesting)

Rei (128717) | more than 5 years ago | (#27762093)

Imagine what West Virginia would be like _without_ coal mining, however. Very pretty, I'm sure. But certainly far poorer.

Well, if WV coal deposits [wvgenweb.org] correlate at all with per capita income [wvdhhr.org] , I'd say it's probably negative. The only real exception seems to be Kanawha County, but that's simply because Charleston is there.

Re:Can't Help but be Supportive (5, Insightful)

explosivejared (1186049) | more than 5 years ago | (#27762149)

Have you been to West Virginia? It's dirt poor now. They have both poverty and environmental destruction. People want to act like there is a constant negative association between the two, when there is none. I wouldn't advocate a complete end to coal mining like some I know. Just from observation the whole practice could be a lot saner.

Morales has no intention of leaving the lithium on the ground. He has example after example of resource rich developing country gaining no benefit from allowing foreign firms come and extract said resources. That lithium is a Bolivian resource and Morales government has every right to negotiate the best price he can for the Bolivian people, and to keep the extraction process from causing negative externalities. Practicing sound economics does not mean giving into to corporate imperialism.

Re:Can't Help but be Supportive (2, Insightful)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761675)

You'd almost think that US corporations had a long history of using the US government to bully or overthrow Latin American countries in order to improve their profit margins.

Re:Can't Help but be Supportive (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27761735)

They should follow Norway's example. Norway had a nationalised oil industry where all of the profits went to the country and people, and thus they're rich and can retire early with big state pensions.

Britain, exploiting the same sea bed, didn't do that, and we're all poor with naff pensions ahead of us.

Re:Can't Help but be Supportive (0)

ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761859)

In this case I can't help but be supportive of Morales' efforts to....

! C...cuh....coah....COMMUNIST!!!

but but but... (-1, Offtopic)

scream at the sky (989144) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761205)

and here I was thinking I'd be getting bolivian spam in regards to cheap medication...

Where Will the Money Go? Pollution Concerns? (5, Interesting)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761209)

"The previous imperialist model of exploitation of our natural resources will never be repeated in Bolivia," said Saul Villegas, head of a division in Comibol that oversees lithium extraction. "Maybe there could be the possibility of foreigners accepted as minority partners, or better yet, as our clients."

Well, I'm glad somebody's thinking with their head.

I also hope that money goes towards improving their infrastructure and fostering internal business instead of some bullshit palace for some bullshit dictator. All too often third world countries squander their resources on some nationalistic project in their capital or some aggressive military campaign when they don't even have electricity, utilities, law enforcement or running water in half their country.

Neither articles seemed to mention much about pollution. I also hope that they move forward with the caution of the scars of pollution that mining has left on other countries--even Canada [google.com] . My coworker once commented at lunch (around the time of the Olympics) that we aren't exporting jobs or industry to China but rather just our pollution. Because it's cheaper to pollute there and the government doesn't care. Take precautions, Bolivia, develop standards now! Don't squander your resources!

Re:Where Will the Money Go? Pollution Concerns? (1)

Austerity Empowers (669817) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761279)

I think we're exporting our pollution, along with our jobs and industry. Unless you really think all those dead end middle management jobs that we're being pushed to are actually going to be necessary in the long run.

Re:Where Will the Money Go? Pollution Concerns? (2, Funny)

CubicleView (910143) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761659)

Hi, I'm Boliva, I find your ideas intriguing and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

Re:Where Will the Money Go? Pollution Concerns? (5, Informative)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761815)

I also hope that money goes towards improving their infrastructure and fostering internal business instead of some bullshit palace for some bullshit dictator.

President Evo Morales of Bolivia is many things, but "bullshit dictator" he is not. He was democratically elected in 2005, and won a recall election in 2008 by a two-thirds majority. The Bolivian government has been a democracy since the 1980's.

Imperialist exploitation? (2, Informative)

mveloso (325617) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761863)

"The previous imperialist model of exploitation of our natural resources will never be repeated in Bolivia"

No, instead we will us the new model of exploitation perfected in Latin America: corporate officials will skim 80% of the revenues and buy condos in Miami and Buenos Aires. Si muy bueno!

Re:Imperialist exploitation? (1)

daem0n1x (748565) | more than 5 years ago | (#27762075)

New model? Assuming it was true, what would be new about that?

Re:Where Will the Money Go? Pollution Concerns? (2, Insightful)

rev_sanchez (691443) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761993)

Latin America has had a few goes at this sort of thing in the past. One common outcome is that leaders looking to better the the quality of life for their people by maintaining fairly tight controls on these kinds of resources are called communists. Certainly some of these efforts have been ill conceived or terribly implemented or blatant power grabs but their governments are often overthrown violently by dictators aided by outsiders in exchange for the right to pillage those resources.

I don't see why lithium should be any different but for their sake I hope so.

Bolivian government is being prescient (-1, Offtopic)

MarkRose (820682) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761227)

They're not saving the salt flats to avoid natural resource exploitation. They're not saving the salt flats to sell to the highest bidder. No, they're saving them for their secret development: they need the dilithium to make crystals for their warp drive!

Can lithium really power all cars? (2, Insightful)

SuperKendall (25149) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761231)

There's a lot of concern from everyone about "peak oil".

Why is there not just as much of a concern about "peak lithium". If we really make a push to convert all cars to being electric, that's a ton of lithium required - and it's used in a lot of other applications too.

That's why solutions like hydrogen as truly alternative fuels make more sense to me that rushing to consume a metal which is truly a non-renewable resource, unlike even coal and oil (which are simply slow to produce but are produced over time).

Re:Can lithium really power all cars? (4, Insightful)

Vancorps (746090) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761323)

Lithium batteries are quite recyclable. While your concern is probably warranted I don't think it's near as big a deal as you think.

Did not say recyclable, said renewable (4, Insightful)

SuperKendall (25149) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761473)

Lithium batteries are quite recyclable.

But there is certain to be some loss over time from repeated recycling. And recycling does not help if the total amount you need is greater than the total amount available. That's why it may be important to consider using a resource you can actually renew, as in create.

You may not think it's a big deal, but that's the problem - who actually knows if it's practical in the end to have all cars run off lithium batteries? If not, then it would make more long terms sense to direct efforts into fuel cell research for cars than improving batteries specifically for car use, which is a very different running scenario than smaller consumer batteries go through.

Re:Did not say recyclable, said renewable (5, Interesting)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761585)

  1. Batteries and Fuel Cells are not an either-or problem any more than GNOME and KDE
  2. Everyone working on batteries and fuel cells could not/would not work only on one or the other any more than everyone working on GNOME and KDE would work on one or the other.
  3. If we can't make enough batteries with Lithium in them, we'll make some other kind of battery — research on other kinds of batteries isn't going to stop, either.

Fuel cells suck. Barring true nanotechnology (as in, molecular assembly) they will probably always be energy-intensive to produce. Batteries suck, too. In fact, everything is pretty lame if you have very high expectations. In the mean time, try only to realize that hybrid cars are total boondoggles which consume vastly more energy in production to give you less mileage for more money than just buying a car with a small turbo diesel engine; meanwhile diesel has more energy than gasoline, and takes less non-free energy to produce, especially if you talk about biofuels but even when talking about dino juice. We need full-electrics so we can centralize power generation, and we need batteries which are at least twice as good as what we have now (as in, twice as favorable a price:performance ratio) in order to make them feasible for the mass market. Fuel cells are also disadvantaged because liquid fuel is harder to transport than electricity. Their only real benefit today is refueling time.

Re:Did not say recyclable, said renewable (5, Funny)

Kral_Blbec (1201285) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761835)

Wow, a linux analogy for a car on slashdot? I think I've seen it all now.

Re:Did not say recyclable, said renewable (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27762017)

In fact, everything is pretty lame if you have very high expectations. In the mean time, try only to realize that hybrid cars are total boondoggles which consume vastly more energy in production to give you less mileage for more money than just buying a car with a small turbo diesel engine

While I did mod you up, I wanted to note that in the US the only turbo diesels I've seen have been VW or Audi (the TDI models). I think there might be others coming, but they would be BMW or Mercedes (also not cheap). I do want an A3 TDI, but it will cost more than a Prius, have comparable MPG, and cost more to fuel (diesel is normally more expensive than 87 Octane).

Re:Did not say recyclable, said renewable (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27761867)

http://gas2.org/2008/10/13/lithium-counterpoint-no-shortage-for-electric-cars/

^ that's why.

The big point of the article is this: lithium can be extracted from the ocean for as cheap as $30 / kg, and there are 238 *trillion* tons of lithium in the ocean. Considering that a lithium battery uses about ~3 pounds of lithium, we're not going to be seeing a shortage for a long, long, time.

Not to mention that lithium is not a *spent* resource like oil: the total amount of lithium we'll *ever* need is pretty constant assuming we're not horrible about recycling, and the viability of recycling programs is proportional to the price, so those won't be going away any time soon.

In conclusion, someone does know if it's practical in the end to have all cars run off lithium batteries. I know, and the answer is yes.

Re:Did not say recyclable, said renewable (1)

JSBiff (87824) | more than 5 years ago | (#27762119)

". . .who actually knows if it's practical in the end to have all cars run off lithium batteries?"

I do. The answer is "no". I suppose in the near-term, lithium batteries are not a bad idea, but cars that get 40 or 60 miles then need other energy sources (or swapped battery packs) to get you any farther are not going to get us away from using petroleum as an energy source. Yes, they can help reduce demand somewhat, and that's good, but if you reduce the demand, people will just drive more, and more people will drive (I heard just the other day on NPR about how China is having an automobile buying boom), and your demand will eventually end up right back where it started, despite vehicles like the Volt.

Is anyone doing (or has anyone in the past) done any research on creating synthetic fuels? That is to say, well, hydrogen is one example of a synthetic fuel - where you take energy (heat or electricity), and use it in a chemical process to synthesize fuels. I have seen a lot of people discussing the problems of using hydrogen gas or compressed liquid hydrogen as such a fuel, though (apparently, it's difficult to keep it contained, requiring heavy tanks with very hiqh-quality seals at every place the fuel hoses make connections, and if it loses containment, is highly explosive).

So, I've been wondering for awhile, instead of just synthesizing hydrogen, can you take that hydrogen, and somehow bond it with carbon which has been re-captured from the atmosphere (this would make such fuels carbon-neutral), to produce synthetic hydrocarbons (that is, something akin to gasolene or ethanol, which can easily be used in internal combustion engines)?

It's just really hard to beat liquid hydrocarbons for energy density, ease of containment/safety, etc. We already have infrastructure all over the world for delivering gas/ethanol to vehicles (fueling stations), and everyone is already driving cars and trucks that use those fuels.

If it's possible (I don't know enough about chemistry to know for sure if it's possible, but it seems like it *should* be possible to synthesize fuels), and possible to do it efficiently (I realize sometimes things are possible but you lose substantial percentages of energy in the process, so they aren't practical), it really seems to me that synthetic gas or ethanol is the route we should be pursuing in our R&D efforts.

Re:Can lithium really power all cars? (1)

Animaether (411575) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761481)

In addition, it's an element used here for battery tech. We already -have- existing battery technology, and they're coming up with new ones all the time.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rechargeable_battery [wikipedia.org]

That's not to say that we should squander Lithium resources any more than we should oil, thinking there'll be an alternative at hand anyway - but there's far fewer reasonable alternatives to oil (think about the uses beyond fuel) than there are to random-electric-battery-tech-X.

Re:Can lithium really power all cars? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27761343)

Because we aren't pushing to make all cars electric.

Why Not? (1)

SuperKendall (25149) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761517)

Because we aren't pushing to make all cars electric.

Long term that's how it will be. Powered by batteries or fuel cells, 99% of cars will be electric in some form (or perhaps it will be 80% with something else like compressed air taking up the remainder). So why not think ahead of time what makes the most sense in car design when that is the case.

Re:Can lithium really power all cars? (2, Insightful)

explosivejared (1186049) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761377)

If you'll notice, the article specifically mentioned that the Bolivian salt flats with these lithium deposits are projected to only be a sustainable source for a few decades. We are very aware of the scarcity of the resource.

As for promoting hydrogen, I've always understood fuel cells to be just simply to inefficient. Plus, batteries are recyclable, so I'm not sure how non-renewable of a resource you can consider them.

Re:Can lithium really power all cars? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27761407)

Everything is "peak" in the long run. Even the universe..

Re:Can lithium really power all cars? (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27761541)

Oil is an energy source. Lithium isn't. We are still deluding ourselves if we think we can burn oil to mine lithium so we can drive electric cars (on roads built and maintained by oil-powered machinery) that get their electricity from burning coal in most cases. Lithium can be recycled, but only in an oil-powered economy where cars and trucks can haul the batteries to factories where enough energy exists to recycle them.

Re:Can lithium really power all cars? (1)

rackserverdeals (1503561) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761551)

If we really make a push to convert all cars to being electric, that's a ton of lithium required

And it is estimated that there are 5.4 million tons, so by your estimates, we could convert all the cars 5.4 million times over.

But maybe you're estimate is a bit off :)

Re:Can lithium really power all cars? (1)

iluvcapra (782887) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761577)

Lithium can't power anything. A lithium battery is mostly a repository of power that you generated somewhere else. It's the same problem that we have with hydrogen. It's just a carrier medium; it's not like oil or coal, or Uranium, (or the Sun), which actually have intrinsic exploitable energy.

Re:Can lithium really power all cars? (1)

SuperKendall (25149) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761685)

A lithium battery is mostly a repository of power that you generated somewhere else. It's the same problem that we have with hydrogen.

No it isn't.

If you need more hydrogen, it's easy to get from anywhere.

If you top out consuming lithium (in terms of simple production of batteries for cars), how do you get more lithium to build batteries with? Even if you don't exactly run out in making new batteries, the consumption of it in quantities needed to make car batteries will drive the price up substantially - while if we could figure out a good way to transport and extract hydrogen, it has a far greater potential to level costs.

Re:Can lithium really power all cars? (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761865)

SuperKendall is trying to be funny, I think. Everyone knows hydrogen comes from turning huge amounts of electricity (or steam and coal, or cracked crude oil, etc) into small amounts of burnable hydrogen. Hydrogen storage is quite a bit less efficient than just storing the electricity in a (lithium?) battery.

No one consumes lithium except in some weird fusion/fission reactor designs. It's all out there, somewhere.

The sea is full of lithium. Of course it would be stupid to refine sea water if there is a much higher concentration in Bolivian salt. Therefore no one refines sea water to make lithium.

Re:Can lithium really power all cars? (1)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761915)

No, hydrogen is worse. Like helium, if you release it, it's gone. You have to pray that it combines with something before it reaches the thermosphere, because after that it's solar wind city.

And, if that's not bad, when fossil sources run out, you have to crack it from the very compound you need the most.

Lithium is just an "ease of extracting" problem. It's the most common element in the earth's crust, so it's not that you can't find it literally everywhere, it's just that some of it is bound up in compounds that would be expensive to break apart.

Re:Can lithium really power all cars? (1)

iluvcapra (782887) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761919)

Where are you going to 'get' hydrogen? Number 1 source presently is extraction from fossil fuels, a process that liberates carbon, I might add, and is less efficient than plain burning the fossil fuel. Number 2 method of electrolysis of water, which just turns electricity input into chemical potential energy as free hydrogen, minus losses. You can't mine hydorgen, and no one has a process wherein you put x amount of energy and get x+y in hydorgen potential energy back.

You understand the point I'm making, right? Lithium doesn't actually "have" energy, it's just a way of moving energy around. The comparison with Saudi Arabia is false because Saudi Arabia has mineral resources that actually manifest terawatts of potential energy. Lithium in the ground can't run a pocket calculator, and the amount of energy you spend processing it and turning into a battery and then CHARGING it will never be less than the amount of work the battery will perform.

Lithium may be an important strategic asset I suppose, like palladium or gold or Indium, but it isn't a power source.

Re:Can lithium really power all cars? (1)

Heddahenrik (902008) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761829)

The thing is that power from the grid is about 4-10 times cheaper than power from a car diesel engine (which is more efficient than a gas engine). So if you see the battery and the power grid as one system, the battery is actually the bigger part of the power system, economically speaking.

With your logic a blade for a wind turbine doesn't produce any power either. It's sort of true, but as the blade is a part of a power system, you can also think of it as a producer of power.

Re:Can lithium really power all cars? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27761641)

There's a lot of concern from everyone about "peak oil".

Why is there not just as much of a concern about "peak lithium". If we really make a push to convert all cars to being electric, that's a ton of lithium required - and it's used in a lot of other applications too.

There is: peak oil, peak lithium, peak helium, peak copper, peak aluminum .... the list goes on. Every time you throw a way a piece of metal, toss away a battery thus ensuring it will end up in a landfill instead of recycling it you move us a little bit closer to that moment. The problem is not so much that we are running out of these substances as it is that sooner or later, not necessarily within our lifetimes, but sooner or ater we will run out of sources that are economically exploitable. There is already a strong business case for mining landfills for recyclable resources on a large scale. It has been even been suggested (not that I necessarily agree) that the reason we have found no signs of spacefaring alien races out there is because most advanced civilizations are doomed to collapse due to resource exhaustion before they reached the point where they became technologically, capable of truly large scale interstellar, or even interplanetary travel.

Re:Can lithium really power all cars? (1)

cayenne8 (626475) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761923)

"Every time you throw a way a piece of metal, toss away a battery thus ensuring it will end up in a landfill instead of recycling it you move us a little bit closer to that moment."

People recycle batteries??

Re:Can lithium really power all cars? (5, Informative)

Colonel Korn (1258968) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761661)

There's a lot of concern from everyone about "peak oil".

Why is there not just as much of a concern about "peak lithium". If we really make a push to convert all cars to being electric, that's a ton of lithium required - and it's used in a lot of other applications too.

That's why solutions like hydrogen as truly alternative fuels make more sense to me that rushing to consume a metal which is truly a non-renewable resource, unlike even coal and oil (which are simply slow to produce but are produced over time).

Yes, lithium may be scarce, but you've got a deep misconception that may be coloring your view and comparison with oil. Oil is a fuel. Allowing it to burn produces energy. Lithium in car batteries is not a fuel. It's a storage device.

Comparing it to a gasoline system, you should think of it like the steel that makes up your gas tank. It stores energy, which must be produced elsewhere (like through burning oil or coal, for example). If we run out of oil, we need a new energy source. If we look to be running out of lithium, we can take worn out batteries and pull the lithium out of them to make new batteries.

Hydrogen, as you point out, is plentiful. However, it is also just another gas tank, not a fuel. Hydrogen is produced by cracking methane. Two years ago I interviewed with the company that does 90% of the hydrogen production in the world. They pointed out that per mile on the road, more CO2 is produced by hydrogen production than gasoline consumption.

Both hydrogen and lithium will be used as STORAGE for energy. Both can be reused basically unlimited times - managed well, we should never run out of either. Oil and coal, on the other hand, generate the power we can then store in lithium batteries or hydrogen, but that generation breaks the oil and coal permanently.

Concern is not consumption but simple totality (2, Interesting)

SuperKendall (25149) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761827)

Yes, lithium may be scarce, but you've got a deep misconception that may be coloring your view and comparison with oil. Oil is a fuel. Allowing it to burn produces energy. Lithium in car batteries is not a fuel. It's a storage device.

Yes I know (although I worded my original post very badly in that respect).

My concern is simply, is there enough lithium that every car could be powered by lithium batteries - that is, is the total amount of lithium sufficient to provide batteries for all the needs we intend to use it for, in a cost effective way.

It could well be there is enough raw lithium that is not a concern. But car batteries require a great deal more lithium than laptop batteries, and a lot more people drive cars than have laptops when you consider the entire world.

Don't underestimate "Bolivian Marching Powder" (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 5 years ago | (#27762097)

Maybe some Bolivian wise guy will invent a car that runs on cocaine?

I used to think that the Eveready Energizer Bunny kept on running, because it was powered by lithium.

Maybe it's powered by powder?

Re:Can lithium really power all cars? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27762143)

Lithium is recyclable, unlike energy resources. As we saw with copper up until recently, once the demand gets high enough, prices go up, and recovery of copper becomes increasingly efficient (so much so that *stealing* copper becomes a problem), and deposits that were too low in grade become economic. It would be the same for lithium.

Concern over lithium supply may be overblown for other reasons anyway [worldlithium.com] .

Coal and oil are "produced over time" by geological processes at rates that are insignificant compared to the rates of consumption. At human time scales the generation of new coal and oil is therefore irrelevant. All the oil and gas that is out there at this instant is all that will matter in the next century (or millenium).

The threshold for economic recovery of energy supplies is also very different from recovery of metals. For metals, as long as the demand and price goes high enough we can continue to extract them from ever-lower concentrations (a good example of this are diamonds, which aren't intrinsically worth all that much, but are extracted at extremely high cost in money and energy because of high demand for them). For energy supplies, once the extraction process takes as much energy as the energy resource contains (or anywhere close to that), there's no point in bothering with it. Leave it in the ground and keep the energy you have -- you'll be better off.

In summary, you have the situation completely backwards in terms of the constraints or the economics of the situation. Energy will be a problem long before lithium will be. In fact, the substantial energy required for lithium extraction and processing is probably going to be a problem before the lithium supply is.

WMD spotted! (0, Troll)

Mishotaki (957104) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761287)

I'm sure the US government has the plan of "spotting" some Weapons of Mass Destruction... otherwise, they'll find a way to invade them and plunder the ressources...

Re:WMD spotted! (1)

zerocommazero (837043) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761443)

They're gonna have to piss of the Prez's daddy first. Then it will work. Then it will be ...personal.

Re:WMD spotted! (1)

rah1420 (234198) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761663)

Gonna be hard to piss off Barack Hussein Obama Sr. [wikipedia.org] - he's been pushing up daisies for quite some time now.

Re:WMD spotted! (1)

ChrisMaple (607946) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761559)

Nope, no paranoia here, none whatsoever.

Re:WMD spotted! (0, Troll)

Lilith's Heart-shape (1224784) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761579)

Let's just hope, for the sake of the Bolivian people, that Islam doesn't catch on over there. Then Bolivia is really fucked.

Re:WMD spotted! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27762127)

Let's just hope, for the sake of the Bolivian people, that unrestricted capitalism doesn't catch on over there. Then Bolivia is really fucked.

Re:WMD spotted! (1)

tnk1 (899206) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761681)

Sorry, you didn't get the memo. George Bush is no longer President of the United States. Big Oil/Industry is now only a minority shareholder in the US Government.

The current shareholders are representatives of the Media Industry, which happily for Bolivia, will probably only crack down on pirated DVDs there, leaving the Bolivians and Evo Morales free to exploit the shit out of their Lithium supplies for themselves.

Hopefully, they actually know how to invest the money in infrastructure for the day when the Lithium gravy train runs its course.

I see it.. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27761297)

So now US war on Bolivia? I can see it already..

mod parent Insightful (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27761359)

nt

I for one... (1)

jhfry (829244) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761333)

I for one welcome our...

That is getting so old.

Way to go Bolivia, be stingy until everyone else runs low then lease the mineral rights for massive profit. Just hope that an alternative for Lithium isn't found in the mean time.

Oh... and don't you love our new energy independance?

Re:I for one... (3, Insightful)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761463)

Just hope that an alternative for Lithium isn't found in the mean time.

Probably will be. A very cursory web search brought up this [webelements.com] . Seems likely that given some time, other reasonable deposits will be found. This actually makes it harder on Bolivia - they have a fairly small window of time (likely years) to figure out how to maximize revenue and hopefully minimize social and environmental issues.

Being the cynic I am, I'm sure it will come out helping some fat cats and mostly screwing over everybody else. But that's just me.

Re:I for one... (0, Redundant)

damn_registrars (1103043) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761621)

our new energy interdependence

There, fixed that for ya.

Re:I for one... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27761711)

An alternative is Sodium, in terms of energy/power it won't nearly as good as Lithium, but in terms of "explosiveness" it is very dangerous. I think scientists will really consider Sodium if there's a run on Lithium ... or if going with Lithium doesn't really result in energy independence... only oil independence : -)

Re:I for one... (1)

tnk1 (899206) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761777)

Bad move. The Bolivians want to make money on the Lithium, but holding out for *too much* money will also make them a target.

There are only three real reasons for conflict. Ideologies, religions and "honor" are just excuses for pride, fear and access to resources.

If Bolivia hoards towards the day that Lithium can make them King, they had better also invest in weaponry and counter-intelligence, because they are in for a wild ride. They had better hope for their own sake that they never make the money the oil shieks do, because the Middle East is one fucked up place, and most of that is due to the jockeying around to control oil.

Uyuni (5, Informative)

neiras (723124) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761345)

I hired some guy with a truck to drop me off out on those salt flats once, just for the hell of it. Incredible lightning shows kept me up most nights. Spectacular place. You could walk in any direction and feel like you weren't moving. It was utterly featureless, aside from the geometric pattern on the ground. I was pretty glad that the truck actually came back a couple of days later.

On one hand, I'd be sorry to hear that the flats were being mined. On the other, Bolivians need something like this; I hope their government acts wisely and on behalf of all of their people.

I'll be watching these events with interest.

Re:Uyuni (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27761709)

Incredible lightning shows kept me up most nights.

Would you say you reached a state of Nirvana?

Re:Uyuni (1)

jameskojiro (705701) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761741)

Yeah, they shouldn't mine the salt flats because it will kill all the salt trees, salt grass and salt creatures that live there.

Personally I think they should work together with Brazil and Iceland , and share the transports on their way to Iceland to process Bauxite.

Lithium and aluminum both made using cheap clean geothermal energy from Iceland!

Re:Uyuni (1)

Trinn (523103) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761825)

(I imagine this is actually some movie reference I'm missing entirely and I'll look dumb, but:) This sounds like a great place for a little exploring of internal landscapes, delving into the deep reaches of mind and soul as it were

They Like It (1)

geoffrobinson (109879) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761387)

They like it, they're not gonna crack.

Re:They Like It (1)

guyminuslife (1349809) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761461)

YEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!

Fantasic! (1)

mc1138 (718275) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761409)

Yet another country that can be exploited for their natural resources!

Re:Fantasic! (1)

A non-mouse Coward (1103675) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761971)

Anyone else wondering if "Bolivia is the Saudia Arabia of lithium" that it means they're the #1 most important import country when it comes to politics and wars, but the #3 biggest import country by actual imports, behind Canada and Mexico?

Better (1)

Bootle (816136) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761411)

than Dr. Manhattan!

Blood batteries (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27761425)

They only way to go truly green is to drive a horse carrage to your own funeral, jump in the hole, and mulch yourself.

Frist 4sot (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27761467)

for all practical 7000 users of FUTURE. EVEN represents the Numbers continue others what to Successes with the the latest Netcraft Satan's Dick And prospects are I'll have oofended vitality. Its distribution. As many of us are ~280MB MPEG OFF OF Exemplified by irc.secsup.org or a BSD over other

Well... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27761521)

Looks like the CIA is gonna have to sell a whole lot of crack to fund ANOTHER overthrow of a democratically elected latin american government...

They need to wake up. (1)

chill (34294) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761529)

The "foreign imperialists" didn't exploit South America without hand-in-hand collusion of the South American governments. The "foreign imperialists" paid tons of money to South American (and African) governments for rights to natural resources. It was the corrupt officials that were more interested in their limos, yachts, palaces and personal wealth than building infrastructure and passing wealth to their peoples. Their own governments are just as guilty, if not more so, than foreign corporations.

Bravo to Bolivia's President Morales for wanting to slow down and study how this is going to affect things. He wants to learn something about the market so he doesn't get screwed by it.

But, they better not wait too long. As the video states, if the battery companies can't get the lithium they will find a different solution. It is really going to suck for Bolivia if the demand for lithium drops because the main use for it no longer needs it. Whale oil, kerosene oil for lamps and bone buttons all come to mind as examples.

What happens when it rains? (2, Interesting)

Classic Guy (31424) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761583)

I mean, if metallic lithium is just lying around on the ground, wouldn't that be pretty spectacular?

Re:What happens when it rains? (1)

smaddox (928261) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761981)

Well, since it is a salt flat, I'm guessing the lithium is in salt form (LiF, LiCl).

Re:What happens when it rains? (1)

CuriHP (741480) | more than 5 years ago | (#27762011)

Since it's a SALT flat, I think it's a safe bet that it's tied up in lithium chloride or some other SALT.

Aling car manufacturers need lithium ... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27761623)

Ailing automakers in the United States are pinning their hopes on lithium

Yeah, they really need to be taking their meds now - can't have those manic-depressives (oops - it's now "bi-polar syndrome") getting all manic and building even bigger hummers.

Bolivia's new future (5, Insightful)

snaz555 (903274) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761673)

0. Evil Bolivian liberals start talking about using the proceeds from sale of lithium for things like national defense, highways, electricity, water plants, schools, research facilities, health care, a functional judicial system - all this first-world stuff they could only dream of affording previously
1. Coup
2. Generals clean out subversives who think Bolivians should own their own natural resources, and make country safe for U.S. and European mining co's
3. Generals sell off complete and exclusive rights for pennies on the dollar - no taxation or local businesses involved; Generals get rewarded with nice personal kickbacks
4. Generals provide local labor for cheap. Very cheap. After all, they have a virtually infinite supply of desperate people willing to work for subsistence wages
5. After 10-20 years as the locals revolt because of the total sell-out, generals escape to a first-world life in luxury
6. As the locals refuse to accept the previous BS deal they kick out foreign mining co's and nationalize the resources
7. U.S. decries evil commies and does its best to destabilize said evil commie government, by interfering with elections, supporting "freedom fighters" (read: insurgents and terrorists), and generally attempt to turn back the clock. The pretext is demanding "free elections", which of course can be rigged to practically restore the previous order
8. After a generation everyone eventually gets tired of conflict, forget what they were fighting over in the first place, and things are allowed to return to some semblance of where they should have been at point 0. Only with a lot of bad history.

Been there, done that. Got the t-shirt.

Re:Bolivia's new future (1)

Atrox666 (957601) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761743)

Well if super capacitor technology takes off then the demand for lithium will be a fraction of what it is now. Then the companies will leave that part of the world. Probably the best thing for them.

You forgot step 9... (2, Interesting)

hellfire (86129) | more than 5 years ago | (#27762099)

9. saintly American companies that never do anything wrong PROFIT!!

Where's the green savings? (1)

geekmux (1040042) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761695)

So, I'm curious as to how many tons of pollution we will generate with tankers, aircraft, and various other means of large cargo transit to move this metal to the areas of manufacturing to make all those "green" automobiles?

Really makes you wonder about the whole point of it all, and the validity (if any) of Al Gores award-winning theory...

Operation Bolivian Freedom shall commence! (2, Funny)

echtertyp (1094605) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761765)

It's clearly time to bring democracy to Bolivia.

Norwegian oil model (5, Informative)

arabagast (462679) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761779)

They could consider following the same model the Norwegian government used when oil was discovered in the sea outside Norway; create a lithium fund managed by the government, paid by taxes and exploration fees from the companies wanting to mine the lithium. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norwegian_Oil_Fund [wikipedia.org] . It worked for Norway, it might work for Bolivia too.

The Saudi Arabia of Lithium? (1)

bunyip (17018) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761801)

An alternate view is that they'll limit the production and manipulate the price. Then profit!!!

Yes, I think the title pretty much sums it up.

Re:The Saudi Arabia of Lithium? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27761995)

Mod parent up.

It'll attract the wrong type of people. (1)

Just_Say_Duhhh (1318603) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761803)

Butch: "Hey, Kid..."
Sundance: "Yeah, Butch?"
Butch: "We should go to Bolivia!"
Sundance: "Bolivia? What's there?"
Butch: "We could literally scrape Lithium off the ground! We'll be rich!"
Sundance: "Let's get packin'!"

mod 3own (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27761823)

Electric Car myth #XX (1)

Hells (1166547) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761901)

Lithium is an extremely abundant resource, further more it's not consumed like oil. There's even several distinct batteries you can switch to that doesnt require lithium if neccesary. IF the lithium prices rises, the viability of mining elsewhere than bolivia rises too. In short this material is uncontrollable unlike oil.

I hope bolivians manage to get their fair share (2, Interesting)

cpotoso (606303) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761925)

Considering how their silver deposits were basically stolen from under their feet by the spanish conquistadores and then the tin reserved stolen again by the multinational corporations, and yet they remain one of the poorest countries in America... I hope they keep some of the wealth to improve their conditions. Evo (and successors) seems to be a person that may really achieve that goal. Yes, some of the $$ will go into the wrong hands (do you really think that Irak's war did not produce magnificent profit$ for some groups closely linked to GWB et al.?), but as long as this is a small fraction things should be OK.

From one foriegn source to another (1)

CHK6 (583097) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761975)

In the short run moving from dependence on foreign oil to a dependence on foreign lithium might make sense, but in the long run countries are yet again dependent on a foreign source of energy. If oil is basically everywhere and Lithium is not, then why increase an energy dependence on few sources that can only tighten their grip more? It's in Bolivia's best interest not to stall to long before a new energy technology is used and they miss out due to indecision.

Great news! (3, Funny)

cashman73 (855518) | more than 5 years ago | (#27761989)

When do we start bombing the country?

Foreign Dependance for Resources (1)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 5 years ago | (#27762023)

Oh hey look at that, here countries are trying to reduce their dependence on foreign resources like oil with 'sustainable' solutions like solar, wind, and electric energy when all of the sudden its discovered that these fun things called batteries, required to store the energy from inconsistent sources (like solar and wind) are actually needed to make these solutions viable. Oh and wait, there are some countries with more battery materials than others? No, the rest of the world won't depend on them for these new resources like we did oil right?

*facepalm* *headbang desk*

Are people really so blind that they cannot see that something like new "green" energies are going to simply shift dependence to a new kind of resource? When the f**k are people going to wake up and realize that until we start funding and developing truly renewable and truly sustainable and truly consistent energy production methods based on fuels like hydrogen (like, oh, I don't know say fusion?) we are just going to be replicating the same problem we have run into with fossil fuels?

I am tired of people and their useless groupthink...

crap (2, Funny)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 5 years ago | (#27762067)

So does this mean that the next president after Obama should start practicing holding hands and kissing cheeks or whatever men do in Bolivia? I'd actually have to compliment Obama on his reserve, only "bowing" to the sheik instead of playing kissy-face like Bush did.

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