I posted this as a comment over at Tallbloke’s place, but figured I ought to save a copy here, too.
While yes, the “boom” in DR Congo has turned their world upside down, the implied subtext that DR Congo is critical to the whole modern world due to the use in Lithium Batteries and “running out” is going to limit that world, well, it’s a common story, but only a story.
Now Tallbloke didn’t push that line, but it is in the lead-in paragraph.
Please: Whenever you see the “Running out!!!” scare or the “Sustainable” propaganda marker, immediately turn your BS Detector to HIGH. It universally leads back to Limits To Growth and their lousy “computer model” that plotted exponential growth against fixed limits and predicted (pardon, they insist on calling their predictions “projections”, as though that was really any different) doom in our time. Well, really, doom about 1980 to 1990. But hey, whats a few decades and failed prediction between friends, eh? /sarc;
There can be no other result from crossing exponential with fixed. BUT, in the real world growth of demand for a resource is S shaped and supply is not fixed. Resources become reserves as the price rises enough to mine them. New methods of discovery, extraction, reuse, and refining are developed. Resource substitution lets us use other materials instead. (Just look at all the stuff made from plastics that formerly used wood, metals, bone, natural fibers, etc. and we can make plastics from oil, gas, trash, wood, straw, bacteria, and so much more. Carbon is truly a wonder atom.)
So as soon as you see “Not Sustainable” or a “Running Out!!!” scare, prepare to call “Bull Shit” on it.
With that, here’s the comment:
While DR Congo has a lot, there’s plenty in other countries too
Australia in particular.
The whole “Running Out!!!’ scare meme comes from Limits To Growth 1972 by Meadows et. al. written at the request of the Club Of Rome (the same folks brining you the Global Warming Myth). Please don’t fall into that trap.
The amount of reserves of a mineral are dependent on PRICE. As long as DR. Congo with Chinese “help” is the global low cost producer, it will have the most ‘reserves’. As prices rise, other places will become economical to mine (with more expensive labor) and those places will suddenly have more “reserves”.
Over time, better ways are found to extract the “ultimately recoverable resource” and even that increases.
Finally, there is resource substitution.
Lithium batteries DO NOT REQUIRE COBALT. LiCo is but one lithium battery chemistry. IF cobalt ever gets significantly expensive, makers will just shift to a different battery chemistry.
Become familiar with the many different types of lithium-ion batteries.
Lithium-ion is named for its active materials; the words are either written in full or shortened by their chemical symbols. A series of letters and numbers strung together can be hard to remember and even harder to pronounce, and battery chemistries are also identified in abbreviated letters.
For example, lithium cobalt oxide, one of the most common Li-ions, has the chemical symbols LiCoO2 and the abbreviation LCO. For reasons of simplicity, the short form Li-cobalt can also be used for this battery. Cobalt is the main active material that gives this battery character. Other Li-ion chemistries are given similar short-form names. This section lists six of the most common Li-ions. All readings are average estimates at time of writing.
Note that “six of the most common”. There are more lesser used too. I’m cutting out the text description, just listing the names. Hit the link for details.
Lithium Cobalt Oxide(LiCoO2)
Lithium Manganese Oxide (LiMn2O4
Lithium Nickel Manganese Cobalt Oxide (LiNiMnCoO2 or NMC)
Lithium Iron Phosphate(LiFePO4)
Lithium Nickel Cobalt Aluminum Oxide (LiNiCoAlO2)
Lithium Titanate (Li4Ti5O12)
Note that LCO (the usual cobalt one) has a specific energy of 200 as does NMC that also uses some cobalt. BUT the NCA one is 250. (Nickel Cobalt Aluminum Oxide). Simply put, using more nickel and aluminum and less cobalt gives a better battery.
But even LMO (Lithium Manganese Oxide) is pretty good at 140 specific energy. Worst case is your cell phone is a little bit bigger and your car battery pack larger. Not the end of the world.
Figure 15 compares the specific energy of lead-, nickel- and lithium-based systems. While Li-aluminum (NCA) is the clear winner by storing more capacity than other systems, this only applies to specific energy. In terms of specific power and thermal stability, Li-manganese (LMO) and Li-phosphate (LFP) are superior. Li-titanate (LTO) may have low capacity but this chemistry outlives most other batteries in terms of life span and also has the best cold temperature performance. Moving towards the electric powertrain, safety and cycle life will gain dominance over capacity. (LCO stands for Li-cobalt, the original Li-ion.)
The thought being that the Lithium Titanate cell, being superior in lifespan and better low temperature characteristics will make a better car battery…
Then there’s the Sodium-Ion and Potassium-Ion batteries waiting in the wings, if ever needed or some researcher makes them “special” in some performance characteristic. They already exist, but at an early stage of R&D, so expect more to come. Panic over lithium “scarcity” is also unwarranted.
Again, only listing the names. Tech details in the link.
Sodium-ion represents a possible lower-cost alternative to Li-ion as sodium is inexpensive and readily available. Put aside in the late 1980s in favor of lithium, Na-ion has the advantage that it can be completely discharged without encountering stresses that are common with other battery systems. The battery can also be shipped without having to adhere to Dangerous Goods Regulations. Some cells have 3.6V, and the specific energy is about 90Wh/kg with a cost per kWh that is similar to the lead acid battery. Further development will be needed to improve the cycle count and solve the large volumetric expansion when the battery is fully charged.
Cobalt in DR Congo is a Big Deal for the locals largely because it is cheap when they mine it. On the global scale, it really isn’t much of an issue. IF it ever becomes problematic, engineers will just design in some other battery and move on.