SUPPLY AND DEMAND
Demand for lithium in batteries has risen on average by 20 per cent a year since 2000. The most powerful Tesla Model S electric car (the P100D) carries a 100kWh rechargeable battery, with each 6kWh of performance requiring around 5kg of battery- grade lithium carbonate.
What makes the market situation unpredictable is that lithium has other uses – the most important being for strengthening and coatings in glass and ceramics. It’s almost impossible to predict accurately what the future of the lithium industry will look like, but earlier this year, Bertau published a paper on lithium supply and demand in the journal
Energy Storage Materials that gives us a short-term idea. 140,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate were produced in 2014. If electric cars really take off, demand could reach 300,000 tonnes by 2020, or less than 200,000 tonnes in a more modest scenario. Bertau thinks the modest scenario is more realistic but, either way, it looks like lithium is going to be in demand for some time yet. What this will mean for the Bolivian mining industry, and those who depend on it, remains to be seen.
MAIN IMAGE: This aerial shot gives a bird’s- eye view of a brine-filled evaporation pool
BOTTOM RIGHT: Battery- grade lithium carbonate
MIDDLE RIGHT: Compounds extracted from the brine are stored in large silos
TOP RIGHT: The Salar de Uyuni salt flat covers over 10,000 square kilometres