Lithium: The Metal of the 21st century

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There may be no mineral on Earth as vital to our 21st century way of life as lithium. Why? Because it’s not just an essential component of cell phones, laptops, and Electric Vehicles (EVs), but also a significant part of our clean energy transition. 

The demand for this critical rare earth mineral has resulted in its production quadrupling over the past decade. Demand for lithium, and thus its production, will only continue to increase as EVs become more common and renewable energy storage systems grab a larger slice of the energy storage pie. Lithium-ion batteries are the fastest-growing type of energy storage technology, with annual growth expected to exceed more than 28 gigawatts (a gigawatt powers approximately 300,000 homes) by 2028. 

“Although pumped hydro storage (PHS) still accounts for 96% of installed energy storage capacity worldwide, Li-ion is the choice technology among project developers and system integrators,” says Ricardo F. Rodriguez, research analyst with Navigant Research. “The technology is expected to account for 85% of newly installed energy capacity.”

Where does the world get its supply of lithium? Over the past decade, Australia has become the undisputed global leader in lithium production, producing more than half of all lithium sold worldwide.  Its closest rival, Chile, produces less than 22%. And the U.S.? Currently, we’re in seventh place with 1.2% of the world’s lithium production. 

Given its importance, global economies must take steps to shore up domestic supplies of this critical mineral. Fortunately, that’s starting to happen here at home. Recently, Lithium Americas Corp. cleared a significant regulatory hurdle with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s publication of the final environmental impact statement (EIS) for its Thacker Pass lithium project in Nevada. The EIS publication is a significant milestone and final approval may come as soon as early 2021, with operation expected to begin in 2023. 

“The publication of the Final EIS is the culmination of more than a decade of work studying, exploring, and developing the Thacker Pass project,” says Lithium Americas president and CEO Jon Evans. “Thacker Pass has the potential to provide future sources of high-quality lithium chemicals critical for establishing a strong domestic lithium supply chain required to support a low-carbon economy.”

The Thacker Pass project will be a world-class mining operation. The mine will initially process 2.2 metric tonnes of ore per year, eventually ramping up production to even greater levels. 

Energy Fairness has been very vocal in our support for securing a domestic source of essential minerals. If the U.S. is to be a leader in energy storage technology, projects such as Thacker Pass are fundamental.