Lithium, Electric Cars, and Bolivian Socialists

Will Lithium Save Us from OPEC?

Only if you swallow it

We have a major push into electric cars being touted by our present government masters as the way to break free of our “addiction to oil”. THE best battery technologies so far are based on Lithium. The Chevy Volt has it designed in, as does the Tesla (and several other makers).

So where do we get the Lithium?

Lithium salts crystalize out of salt lakes at a slightly different stage of drying than do other salts. You need to find places where rains, over millions of years, have washed salts out of the mountains and into dry salt lakes with persistent deserts, where they have slowly evaporated to allow the selective separation from recrystallization. Where does this happen? In very limited places.

There are small deposits in China, and some in North America in the dry lake beds behind the Sierra Nevada mountains in Nevada. But the largest deposits are in South America. Chile has a large deposit, and to a lesser extent, Argentina has some. But the “Saudi Arabia” of Lithium is Bolivia.

Bolivia has more than 1/2 of all the lithium deposits in the world.,8599,1872561,00.html

Even the New York Times thinks this is an issue.

So Why Is This A Problem?

Bolivia also has a leftist socialist government that has nationalized oil, gas, and other mining operations. Their leader is a big supporter of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. This, as they say, “could be a problem”…

Depending on who you listen to, the demand for lithium becomes a big impact on lithium prices between about 5 and 10 years from now (just about the time electric cars are projected to sell in anything more than token numbers. This too, as they say, “could be a problem”…

There is a similar, though smaller, issue with all the copper needed to make the electric motors, chargers, inverters, power transformers, increased grid capacity, etc.

And that is the Achilles’ Heel of the electric car movement. They can only be built at a slow rate in proportion with the global supply of those two metals or they will run into the inelastic supply curve of those metals. When excess demand meets inelastic supply, prices rise dramatically. This will “rate limit” the introduction of electric cars on a global basis. The only way out of this problem is to build many more and larger mines. Not exactly the darling of the same environmentalists who insist that the electric car will save the planet. Oh, and what do we do if Bolivia says that they do not want to dig up all the lithium at that rate?

So What’s a Person To Do?

Well, you could try to make some money off of it.

The major publicly traded stocks that mine lithium are FMC in North America and SQM in Chili. Copper is dominated by FCX Freeport Macmoran Copper and Gold and PCU Southern Copper. To the extent the “green agenda” is moved forward, those companies will have significant increases in demand and prices.

In Conclusion

The Wall Street Journal calls this Peak Lithium. While even the greens tend to admire the issue (in a far off kind of way…) though their comments all run to “There can’t be a problem and why are you raining on my parade?!”

So which will it be? Thrall to a Bolivian socialist with the dominant share of world Lithium supply, or addicted to Saudi Sheiks’ oil? Your choice…

Me? I would go with Coal To Liquids using U.S. Coal. We have more coal than anyone else on the planet. Several hundred years worth, at least. And we do not need to ship money to either the Saudi or the Bolivian oligopolies. It does not take any new development. South Africa has done it for over 30 years.

It is a simple, proven, self reliant approach with no technical risk that will work and can be completed in about 5 years. So why is THAT the one plan that is put completely off limits by the socialist / green agenda? One can only wonder…

The known coal deposits in the U.S.A. alone will last about 250-400 years and maybe more, so we have plenty of time to continue business as usual while we ponder what to do next.

U.S.A Coal

U.S.A Coal

Original Map with more options shows where coal is in the U.S.A.; by my eyeball measurement it’s about 1/4 of the country.

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
This entry was posted in Earth Sciences, Economics - Trading - and Money and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Lithium, Electric Cars, and Bolivian Socialists

  1. Dear E.M.:

    There is another problem, and a funny one: Lithium is found as lithium carbonate, and to be used in batteries it should be transformed into lithium hydroxide, but first as an oxide, by calcining the carbonate….and, obviously, sending CO2 to the atmosphere..
    I am writing you from Peru, which is Bolivia´s neighbor country, and I know you are referring to the “Salar de Oyuni”. Feel free to write to my email.

  2. One more thing is that the alternative battery is the “Energetic Iron Battery”:
    This would be a more comfortable alternative and not “self igniting” as lithium batteries.

  3. Roger Sowell says:

    All the Lithium we could ever want or need can also be made in thermo-nuclear fusion reactions, so all we have to do is build more nuclear fusion power plants. Add hydrogen, let it fuse, then implode like a supernova star does, then separate out the brand-new lithium. This will require a fairly large nuclear fusion reactor, say, roughly the size of our sun. It might take a while to find sufficient hydrogen, and for it to fully fuse before it implodes. Perhaps a few billion years or so, but we can all sing Kum Ba Yah while we wait.

    Or, we can bring in a Lithium asteroid from the asteroid belt located between Mars and Jupiter. Now, if we could just find one or two of those, rather elusive critters. Getting private space tugs up into the asteroid belt, and back while towing a Lithium asteroid the size of Texas is not a problem. What? Getting it down through the atmosphere without burning up? Simple! Use a space-plane!

    Copper can be mined from all the legacy telephone systems, since nobody uses land-line phones any more, in favor of cell phones. Lots of people will have great jobs doing this, for many, many years. We might have a problem with all the insulation that must be stripped off and disposed, but we have landfills for that.

    Oh wait…the reader says these ideas are just a bit too outlandish to be practical? Sorry, I was using the greenie-weenies’ playbook on this.

    Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

  4. E.M.Smith says:


    Yes, I detected the cheek bulge from tongue.. but just to point our a bit of physics: Lithium is rather unfavored energetically. The binding energy tends to be liberated in both directions, so it is used in our “hydrogen bombs” as Lithium Deuteride. This both has a fission of Lithium to Tritium and an alpha particle (said tritium then participating in the fusion reactions) and a direct fusion of Li and deuterium. At the end of the day, adding Lithium to any nuclear reactor will result in a lot less tritium and a nice “glow in the dark” ambiance …

    And that, boys and girls, is why we have so little Lithium on the planet and so much sodium to work with…

  5. E.M.Smith says:

    @ Adolfo

    Yes, you are quite right. Ironic, no?

    BTW, is Peru recovered now from the time of troubles a bit ago? Basically I’m down to Brazil, Chile, and maybe Argentina, Peru, The Guyana’s (French, Surinam, etc.) Any insight from someone “on the ground” would be appreciated… Oh, and Belize gets an “honorable mention” but I’m not fond of the neighbors nor of the hurricanes…

    Just deciding where to retire beyond the reach of the U.S. Socialist Agenda…

    Interesting battery chemistry. I suspect we will find an alternative chemistry to Li but the major issue is that Li is very light, and that matters for a car. The end game, I suspect, will be some kind of polymer battery. Ironic in that carbon will be the ‘saviour’ ;-) I’d also expect to see some aluminum air batteries for their very fast ‘recharge’. Basically you use metal as the fuel and a battery as the ‘engine’. Recharging us just sticking in another chunk of metal / fuel. The sludge removed goes back to the refinery…

    It is all very interesting and would be great fun were it not for folks pushing to have it all done today… on my dollar…

  6. D.A.Newton says:

    Where is Smedley Butler when you need him?

    REPLY: Oaklands Cemetery West Chester, Pennsylvania (last time I checked)…

    But yeah, “War is a Racket” and the idea that we’re going to get all the lithium needed for an e-car world without a Smedley or two is, er, um, “an issue”.

  7. kevin Crossey says:

    Once you have lithium sorted out then something else is here to ruin the party. A little problem with electric and hybrid cars is that they require rare-earth metals. China the biggest exporter, at about 95% of current world requirement, and has started export restrictions, which they say will help conserve what they have.
    As you all probably know rare-earth metal are needed to make good light weight motors, generators and magnets. The rare-earth metal Cerium is also used in car exhaust catalytic converters.
    The current Toyota Prius uses about 2kg of the rare-earth metals.

    Other countries with these minerals are India, Brazil and USA(California). In USA most of these mines have been mothballed. So I guess it’s time to open them up.

    REPLY: [ While I agree with you, getting a mine approved in California? Really? ;-) -E.M.Smith ]

  8. kevin Crossey says:

    Rare-earth metal mine reopens in CA.

    Mountain Pass Mine in the Mojave Desert is the location, though the green conservation lobby are setting-up for a fight.
    They’ll fail as the owners, Molycorp Minerals LLC, has powerful friends and are financed by a group that includes Pegasus Partners IV and this is owned by Chris Cougat. He is a big Contributor to:
    The Democrat Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Democrat Congressional Campaign Committee, Chris Dodd, and BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA!!!

    CHEVRON sold this mine to the new owners and while it owned this mine, it was NEVER going to be allowed to reopen. Now sold to its new owners, and I maybe wrong, but I think it will be reopening very soon!

  9. E.M.Smith says:


    Your comment has been snipped due to rude, and I’d add insulting, content. Further, sexual innuendo (or in your case, direct insults of a sexual nature) will also cause a snip.

    Further, given the generally hostile and, frankly, idiotic nature of your comment, I would even go so far as to say your comments in general are not likely to be welcome here.

    Please read the “Rules” tab above. If you can’t follow that guidance, please find somewhere else to comment.

    E.M.Smith, Host, Proprietor, and Etiquette Police

  10. Bill Turner says:

    Kevin Crossey. Is this the Kevin Crossey who worked as a radio engineer with VOA in Belize in the middle to late 1980’s? reply to email

  11. E.M.Smith says:

    @Bill Turner:

    Don’t know if Keven Crossey will see that comment or not. If you get “no joy” let me know and I can likely forward a message to him.

Comments are closed.