Batteries and the new "lithium gold-rush"

Batteries and the new “lithium gold-rush”

In the mountains of northern Nevada, the gas of the future lies in the shadow of the previous. Sixteen million years in the past, the space now known as Thacker Move was the website of a large volcanic eruption … and volcanologist Tom Benson has been looking out the world for locations identical to it.

He says an eruption right here tens of millions of years in the past left behind the key to unlock the electrical car revolution.

It is known as lithium, the lightest strong component on that chart most of us solely periodically keep in mind from highschool chemistry. Rechargeable lithium ion batteries are what energy our cell telephones, computer systems, even toothbrushes, and are actually the gas for all these electrical automobiles beginning to roll off the meeting line.

Correspondent Ben Tracy requested, “What’s the connection between volcanoes and lithium?”

“Pretty much all lithium comes from volcanoes,” Benson mentioned.

“In the coming years, when people are driving their electric cars down the road, there’s a good chance the lithium in that battery will come from here?”

“Yes, that’s the hope.”

Benson works for Lithium Americas, a mining firm that owns the rights to Thacker Move, the largest recognized lithium deposit in the United States. The corporate expects to probably extract 80,000 tons of lithium a 12 months. That is sufficient to energy about one million automobiles.

“It’s really the blood in a battery,” mentioned Jonathan Evans, president of the firm. “Without it the batteries won’t work.”

With automakers pledging to quickly make most of their automobiles electrical, lithium demand is anticipated to extend as a lot as tenfold in the subsequent decade. Proper now most of it’s mined in Chile and Australia, and virtually all of it’s processed in China.

America has only one lithium producing mine, in southern Nevada, offering lower than 2% of the world’s provide.

Tracy requested, “Is it an option for the U.S. not to be in this field and to let other countries supply this?”

“I think the answer is no,” Evans replied. “We have a lot of competitors in the world that, if we don’t do something about it, others are going to be happy to.”

“And one of those countries is China?”


“How far behind are we?”

“Years, decades.”

Jumpstarting the change to EVs is essential to President Biden’s plan to chop U.S. greenhouse fuel emissions in half by 2030 to gradual local weather change. “The future of the auto industry is electric,” Mr. Biden mentioned in August. “There’s no turning back.”

The Division of Power has launched a nationwide blueprint for lithium batteries. It says counting on different international locations creates a “strategic vulnerability” for the U.S. economic system.

Allan Swan, the president of Panasonic Power of North America, mentioned, “We are right at the beginning of this journey, and therefore what’s ahead of us is so huge.”

Swan runs the largest lithium ion battery manufacturing facility in the world, simply outdoors Reno, Nevada. It produces two billion batteries every year. All of them are for only one electrical automotive maker: Tesla.

Tracy requested, “Do you guys ever shut down? Does this ever take a break?”

“Nope. never stop,” mentioned Swan. “24/7, 365 days a year. We don’t stop.”

The batteries are made on the Panasonic facet of a large facility often called the Tesla Gigafactory, and then robots, buzzing alongside to the theme from the “Super Mario Brothers” online game, drive them to the Tesla facet, the place they’re put inside the vehicles.

“What do we as a country need to do, or what do companies need to do, to meet this new demand?” requested Tracy.

“We don’t have a supply chain here in the U.S.,” mentioned Swan. “We have to work hard at that. If we get that right, we’re going to rock in America, which will be really powerful.”

“Are we going to see more battery factories like this all over the country?”

“Yeah, fundamentally yes. I mean, it’s not even touching the bottom of the barrel at this point. So, it’s a long way to go.”

These factories will want plenty of lithium, which is why J.B. Straubel, the CEO of Redwood Supplies, and a former Tesla govt, mentioned all these lithium batteries have to be recycled.

“The sheer number of batteries and the sheer number of vehicles, is massive,” he mentioned. “If there is no scaling ahead of time and no solution ready, it could become a big challenge.”

Vans arrive at his Carson Metropolis warehouse on daily basis, loaded with containers of outdated batteries, from electrical vehicles to energy instruments. His firm is partnering with Ford to assist flip outdated batteries into new ones. Ford simply introduced plans to construct two huge battery manufacturing vegetation in the U.S.

Straubel mentioned, “I think recycling the batteries is a must. The material is coming at us, and we don’t really have a choice of should we or should we not recycle it.”

Lithium is now so helpful it is known as “white gold.” There’s believed to be billions of {dollars}’ price of it at Thacker Move alone. And whereas it could be important to a greener future, getting it out of the floor comes with its personal environmental value.

“The claim that this would be a ‘green mine’ is extremely dangerous,” mentioned Max Wilbert, a part of a bunch of protestors who’ve been tenting out on the Thacker Move mine website since January. He mentioned lithium will not be the silver bullet many imagine it to be, due to the influence of mining on the land and the giant quantities of wastewater created by lithium extraction.

Tracy requested, “If we’re trying to move away from fossil fuels, is the environmental impact at a site like this the lesser of two evils?”

“That’s a really good question, but I think the problem is, that’s the wrong framing,” Wilbert replied. “Global warming is a huge problem. But in this attempt to save the planet from climate change, people are actually believing that we can save the planet by destroying it.”

Lithium Americas admits there will likely be environmental impacts, however claims new mining know-how will result in much less injury. The corporate plans to start its operation subsequent 12 months, probably making a lithium increase city in close by Winnemucca, Nevada.

Evans mentioned, “If you believe in climate change, if you are worried about competitiveness, if you are worried about jobs being lost, then assets like this, development like this, in the U.S., is necessary.”

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Story produced by Chris Laible. Editor: Remington Korper.

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