Hello again, and welcome back to another busy instalment of the ABCs of EVs. We’ve done a few videos in this series on batteries. But today we’re doing a deep dive into one of the elements that make up the batteries we use in our EVs. Lithium.
What is Lithium?
Cast your eyes back to your school days, and those science class lessons. I can still see that big poster up on the wall of the Periodic Table! And if your memory is good enough you’ll be able to see that Li symbol over on the left-hand side, sitting on top of the really funky stuff like Caesium and Potassium.
It’s the lightest and smallest, but it’s also extremely reactive…so it becomes really attractive to us for a whole range of applications, but stick around and we’ll get on to that in a minute.
Where and how do we get it?
Lithium is quite widely spread across our planet. Great for us and batteries, eh? Yes…but no. The issue is that it does not occur in its elemental form naturally anywhere. For example, it is estimated that there is more than 200 billion tonnes of Lithium in seawater. That’s enough for a lot of batteries! But it’s difficult and expensive to extract Lithium in the requisite form from seawater.
So we have traditionally looked elsewhere for Lithium. Chile is recognised as having the most reserves of Lithium. However, it’s Australia that is producing far and away the most Lithium… 40,000 tonnes, nearly half of total world production in 2020 according to the United States Geological Survey. There are also significant reserves in Argentina and China. Bolivia is meant to have a huge capacity for Lithium production but is not yet at the viable stage of extraction.
What do we use it for?
We use Lithium for a whole range of applications. Go back a few years and we would have been talking about making ceramics, glazes and ovenware. But these days, thanks to breakthroughs in battery technology, it has well and truly taken over as the primary use of Lithium. It has become an intrinsic part of the Lithium-ion batteries that we use so widely today.
Why do we use it in batteries for our EVs?
Let’s jump back to what we said at the start about Lithium being so attractive to us for EVs. We mentioned that Lithium is quite reactive, and we like this because it will easily let go of an electron, which is exactly what we need for our circuit and the battery functioning.
It has a really negative voltage. This is great as we can put it with something with a positive voltage and get a really large window of voltage for the cells that make up our batteries. So we can create these energy-dense batteries that are really good for applications like mobile phones that you carry around, and of course, our Electric Cars.
It’s also quite light, relatively speaking. Now we all know that if you want to get better efficiency from your EV, or any car, in fact, you reduce the weight. And with batteries making up such a significant portion of the weight of the car, this becomes hugely important to us.
How do we get Lithium?
We’ve said that Lithium isn’t found in its natural form…it doesn’t just grow on trees you might say! You have to go out there and get it. Traditionally, mining hard rock from which you would isolate and extract Lithium and its compounds was the primary form. But advances and changes in battery technology have allowed us to get Lithium from brine, as is increasingly the case in South American hotspots like Chile, Argentina and Bolivia.
The future of Lithium
EVs and battery technology are evolving constantly. Changes in the demands of EVs and the chemistries within batteries are constantly altering the demands we place on elements and compounds such as Lithium and its derivatives.
So it’s impossible to know for sure exactly what role Lithium will play in a few decade's time. Changes to the cost of processing and extraction of not just Lithium but the likes of Cobalt will have a large impact.
What is also of crucial importance is how we can recycle Lithium from batteries in use today. In a few decade's time they will have been through the mill of EVs, and commercial energy storage…and at that stage, it’s crucial that they don’t go to landfills and instead go to good use. Great strides are being made in this arena, and only time will tell how it all works out on a global and commercial scale.
Well, we’ve done our best to avoid a chemistry lecture and we hope you’ve enjoyed the video.
But we want to know what you think! Let us know in the comments.
How do you see the future of Lithium use in batteries?
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