SUP­PLY AND DE­MAND

Focus-Science and Technology - - Earth -

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

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