How the US is far behind in the production of lithium, the “white gold” for electric vehicles

The United States has problems with the supply of lithium. Nearly every major automaker has announced an EV transition, Tesla has delivered nearly a million vehicles in 2021, and several new EV companies such as Rivian and Lucid are phasing out new models.

To power all these electric vehicles, we’re going to need batteries—there are a lot of them.

By 2030, electric vehicle growth will supply more than 90% of lithium demand, according to Benchmark Mineral Intelligence. But lithium is also found in our phones, computers, ceramics, lubricants, pharmaceuticals, and is needed to store solar and wind energy.

“It’s like blood in your body,” said Lithium Americas CEO John Evans, “it’s the chemistry behind how lithium-ion batteries work. generation batteries. So that’s really a critical element.”

This vital mineral in rechargeable batteries has earned the name “white gold”.

That the price of lithium is rising, which is 280% more than in January 2021, and the creation of a domestic supply of lithium has become the modern version of oil security. But today, the US is far behind: according to the US Geological Survey, only 1% of the world’s lithium is mined and processed in the US.

More than 80% of the world’s raw lithium is mined in Australia, Chile and China. And China controls more than half of the world’s lithium processing and refining. and, according to the International Energy Agency, owns three-quarters of the world’s lithium-ion battery megafactories.

But until the 1990s, the US was the leader in lithium production.

“The lithium industry originated in the US and has grown successfully for 50 years,” said Eric Neumann, International Business Manager at Swenson Technology. “We have a lot of them. The problem is, can we produce what we need at an economical and competitive price? It’s complicated”.

Lithium is not a scarce element. The US has nearly 8 million metric tons of reserves, according to the USGS, making it one of the top five countries in the world.

But there is only one operating lithium mine in the US, Albemarle’s Silver Peak in Nevada.

Last June administration has published to launch domestic production and processing of lithium, as well as the production of batteries, and set the goal of sales of electric vehicles in the country at 50% by 2030.

There are several domestic lithium projects in Nevada, North Carolina, California, and Arkansas, among other places.

A Lithium Americas employee processes lithium at the company’s research lab in Reno, Nevada.

Controlled Thermal Resources is developing a lithium project in the Salton Sea, California, that will extract lithium from brine pumped out by geothermal power plants in the area. The Salton Sea was once a popular tourist destination, but has become one of the worst environmental and public health crises in modern history as drier conditions caused much of the lake to dry up. The state of California is trying to transform the area by naming it “Lithium Valley” and is hoping to generate the revenue needed to revive the area.

Last summer, GM announced a multi-million dollar investment in controlled thermal resources and secured the first rights to buy domestically produced lithium for its electric vehicles.

Piedmont Lithium wants to revive an old North Carolina lithium mining area near Charlotte. Piedmont signed a deal in 2020 to supply Tesla with lithium sourced from its fields, but the project has been delayed by permits.

Lithium Americas plans to open a quarry at Tucker Pass, which is located within an extinct supervolcano about 200 miles north of Reno, Nevada and is one of the largest lithium reserves in the US. lithium, and it is in the process of final approval.

But no one wants a backyard mine, and Thacker Pass and other projects have stalled amid lawsuits and opposition from environmentalists, delays in permits, and opposition from local Indian tribes.

Watch the video to learn more and take an inside look at some of the domestic lithium projects in development.

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