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Chile's Atacama Drylake
Chile's Atacama desert currently produces the largest market share of the world's lithium carbonate, which are processed into the lithium used to make advanced batteries, as well as other products including medicine. The brine lakes of this remote desert region are the lithium equivalent to the Ghawar oil fields in Saudi Arabia.

Peak Lithium?

Part one of exclusive two-part interview with William Tahil, Director of Research for Meridian International Research.

By Bill Moore

He said that when the cheap lithium from Chile came onto the market in the late 1990s, the price dropped 50% and it created the false impression of abundance, and helped spur the growth of the cellphone and laptop computer industry.

"For that scale of industry, where you're talking about a very small battery of maybe 10 watt hours or for a large laptop battery of 100 watt hours, the lithium ion battery is excellent. And there's been the unthinking acceptance that if it's good for the laptop computer, it's good for the electric car without consideration of the scale or magnitude or what happens when we have to increase production by a factor of ten or more to accommodate electric cars."

It was a paper published by the U.S. Energy Department's Argonne National Laboratories in Chicao entitled, "Cost of LIthium Ion Batteries for Vehicles" that piqued Tahill's interest.

"They showed that you need 1.4 kg of lithium carbonate per kilowatt hour of battery. So, that's just the starting point for field calculations; and even if you double that, the energy density in the future, it is still not a pretty picture.

"If you took all the lithium carbonate that we are producing today and put it into small plug-in hybrid battery, an 8 kWh battery (HEV20), you could produce about six million cars, which is one-third of United States sales each year, and ten percent of annual global sales," Tahil said, noting that all current lithium production is currently allocated to other applications.

"So you've got to find new production. There's about 75,000 (metric) tons of lithium carbonate being produced in the world today, and there new deposits coming on stream right now, which by 2010 will raise production to 150,000 tons. So, we're going to have double the lithium carbonate in (three) years time, but that's being driven by demand for consumer electronics where you have at least 20 percent growth rates for laptop computers and mobile phones. Massive demand from the developing world. So, we're going to need more lithium carbonate production on top."

Tahil calculates that in order to give every new car manufactured in America each year an 8 kWh battery comparable to what is in the current batch of Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid conversions, you would need 200,000 tons of lithium carbonate.

"In terms of existing and planned production capacity that exists in the world today, you need to.. [double] that again just to allow the United States to have 8 kWh batteries in its cars. And if you had the new Chevrolet Volt with its 16 kWh battery, you'd need double that again."

CONTINUE TO PART 2 >>>

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