Lithium prices are soaring, fueled by the EV (electric vehicle) momentum. Without lithium-ion batteries, there are no EVs. But as the U.S.(United States) heads towards a greener economy, we’re reminded that we do not yet have an alternative energy solution that doesn’t have some sort of environmental impact.
As with almost any commodity, rising demand and prices may incentivize some suppliers to cut corners. The U.S. has some of the world’s strictest environmental standards, constraints that make establishing and maintaining a domestic lithium supply even more imperative.
The U.S. is already running behind
Bloomberg estimates that the U.S. will have 3.2 million passenger EV sales by 2028. But even if immense effort is invested into the lithium industry, we still don’t have enough supply for even one automaker’s battery factories. Our domestic supply chain isn’t ready
The U.S. both mines and processes only about one percent of the world’s lithium output. Experts suggest that we will need 20 times our current supply over the next ten years to power EVs as well as computers, cell phones and other popular electronic devices.
This may force the U.S. to rely on foreign countries, primarily China, Australia, and South America, for our lithium supplies
America’s modern explorers: The lithium pioneers
Lithium is found in trace amounts in rocks as well as in brine taken from underground pools that is then extracted by evaporating the water. Studies show that brine-based lithium sourcing produces up to 45% less air pollution and uses less fresh water than lithium extracted from ore, making it more sustainable and easier on the environment.
However, these massive brine ponds, the size of many football fields, are still criticized for depleting the water supply.
Western world countries are rushing to lock down their lithium supplies as they phase out gasoline-powered cars. Domestically, the epicenter of U.S. lithium mining since 1966 has been the desert sands of Clayton Valley, Nevada, located halfway between Reno and Las Vegas. In fact, this is the only place in North America where lithium has been consistently extracted and produced.
ACME Lithium has interest in two key projects within this lithium-rich region. We are committed to having a reduced footprint in our operations. We feel a huge responsibility to explore, develop, and produce lithium in the least environmentally impactful way.
This means hiring environmental and sustainability experts to research the areas to ensure there are no rare wildlife species or archeological issues. When drilling for lithium in brine, it is essential that any water removed from the ground is returned through an injection well. Surface disturbance will be minimized to the extent possible with reclamation efforts once work is complete. The definition of responsibly sourced lithium should also include a commitment to following modern best practices for workers as well as local communities. Under the regulations of state and federal authorities, we operated to comply with standards such as the Clean Air Act and Federal Water Pollution Control Act.
Additional sustainability initiatives in development stages
There is a lot of new focus on DLE (direct lithium extraction) technology, an innovative process which involves extracting lithium through a modular plant system, reducing water usage and eliminating solar evaporation ponds and salt piles. DLE could potentially be a more economical as well as sustainable and environmentally friendly method and is definitely worth evaluating.
A number of companies are also focused on recycling the millions of lithium batteries that have reached the end of their lives.
A domestic lithium supply chain is good for the environment
We are very optimistic about the U.S.’s ability to catch up with our domestic lithium demand, and to do so in an environmentally responsible way. Overall companies have a very good history of enforcing strict rules and best practices. We also have very good people and technology. We don’t always see this combination in other parts of the world.
About the Author:
Stephen Hanson is president and CEO of ACME Lithium, a company working in the epicenter of lithium exploration and development in the United States.