According to the USGS, US consumption for 2011 was estimated at ~2000 tons. So, this source is, indeed, significant. According to the article, it is also twice as large as the other known US source (in Nevada), so combined, the US has ~150 years worth of domestic Li at its current consumption rates.
So let's be precise. A Proven Ore Reserve is not all that is feasible to extract with current technology, it is all that which has been proven feasible. Emphasis on proven.
Given a large resource area it's generally the case that only a partial area has been studied to the degree required to classify as Proven (often three or four increasingly detailed Technical Reports down the line).
If the lithium deposits in the article have only just been found (that part is unlikely given they've gotten to the stage of having a rough estimate) then there's some way to go before they are sampled to the point of being feasible. Moreover if the deposit is split into portions it's probable that only one sub deposit at a time will climb the ladder to Proven.
Investors would be watching for a gradual climb in the degree of Tech Report being released and poised to bet the bank just prior to the release of an Economic Feasibility Study, typically the first Prospectus to be floated (if it goes public) would be of the order of ~$50 million for a drill survey; a 'low cost' high risk evaluation. The penultimate Feasibility Study consolidates all the prior deposit evaluations and outlines the plant and extraction costs, paving the way for a 'big bucks' Prospectus to fund the major initial extraction capital costs.
Question, for anyone out there who might know: How much lithium (and of what quality) can be recovered from a typical modern li-on battery? How difficult is the process?
This is the opposite of the truth. Lithium is not dense at all (~.53g/cm^3), especially for a metal, and as a Group 1 metal is extroardinarily reactive - if you cut lithium it will oxidize as you watch, and if you expose it to water is will explode into flaming chunks.
> I imagine they don't get to 100% because they just don't bother to heat it high enough to melt things in there with a ridiculously high melting point and risk creative copper fumes and whatnot (from some metals evaporating). i.e. it's still easy, they just don't want to.
No. Lithium has a very low melting point (roughly 180C/355F).
Furthermore, your contention that a process with an efficiency of 93% should be easy to bring to 100% is so off base I don't even know where to begin. Squeezing out the last few percentage points is the hardest part!
That is: we lose half the original amount after 9 recyclings, and 95% in 40. Scale time to exhaust known lithium reserves accordingly in the event battery life is longer or shorter than stated above.
But considering that, oh, say, batteries returned for recycling are going to be a relatively rich source of lithium, the recycling waste itself is no more viable a source than any other ore.
You can separate minerals from one another given sufficient energy inputs, but then you're getting at the issue of EROEI for the entire battery storage chain. Pretty much anything, even gold, can be extracted from seawater, given sufficient energy investment.
But the Bloomberg piece does provide some quantification:
"By 2014, the mine will produce 30,000 metric tons of lithium carbonate, more than Rockwood’s mine in Chile, which is the world’s second largest. Bolivian scientists say there are about 95 million tons of lithium under the Uyuni Salt Flat"
So: 95 million tons supplies 4.8 billion automobiles.
Simple division gives us 19.4 kg of lithium per vehicle.
The Tesla Model S battery weighs on the order of 400kg. I'll assume half that weight is lithium. Clearly the Bloomberg piece isn't referring to high-range Tesla-style plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs), of which Bolivia could only supply 475 million batteries. That's enough to satisfy the US, but hardly the world, let alone give everyone in the world, or even one in ten, a PEV, plus LiON-powered smartphone, tablet, and other rechargeable devices.
And the rather more modest Wyoming find at 228,000 tons would be good four roughly 1.14 million vehicles.
The simple truth is that we've been able to rely on fossil fuels for much of the past century to provide a convenient energy storage package that's going to be exceptionally difficult to replace. And we will have to replace it.
2.5% of 350 Kg is 8.75 Kg. So a slightly less conservative estimate scales your figures by a factor of 22.
Edit: The Model S probably uses NCA batteries (it's hard to say). Lithium is still only 7% by weight of LiCoO2 (Leaving at least a factor of 10).
So, scaling by 22, we get roughly 10.5 billion battery packs out of the Bolivian reserves. That's rather more sufficient.
I suspect cobalt is more likely to be the limiting factor.
But probably not for at least a decade or so. So we may as well talk about this in today's terms.
Humans are looking very hard to replace our go-to energy storage media: solid coal and liquid petroleum, both of fossil origin. We'll have to replace them under one of two circumstances: we exhaust them, or we cannot continue to abide the CO2 they produce. We're likely to run into both constraints within the next 20 years, if not already.
And when you start scaling known reserves of known battery component minerals against the task of providing, say, affordable transportation to a large portion of the planet's population, or even that portion which presently owns cars, the math starts falling apart pretty quickly.
Lithium is nice for mobile and transportation applications because it's light and has a high storage density relative to mass. Lead-acid batteries also work, and there's probably enough lead to supply a lot of automobiles, but it's messy and toxic and heavy.
When you start looking to grid-scale storage, even lead, as abundant as it is, comes up short:
More likely: molten-salt or liquid metal batteries. They're heavy and have lower power densities, but the raw materials are cheap and abundant. Thermal storage (again, molten salt, but used as a heat transfer fluid) and flywheels (very expensive relative to capacity, and having their own engineering challenges) might also see application, the latter having benefits for being able to respond very rapidly to large changes in supply or demand.
So you're ignoring the stored energy vs. energy storage distinction. Yes, yes, oil and coal are storing energy from the sun from a billion years ago. But the energy there is already stored. You can't replace that by making a better battery, you need somewhere to get the energy to charge your battery. If you have a cost effective source of energy (wind/nuclear/solar/etc.) to replace them, you can at worst produce carbon-neutral oil synthetically, though alternatives may be more efficient. That doesn't mean storage isn't a problem (efficiency is king there), but it's a different problem -- if we solved the supply problem then regardless of storage we could shut down existing coal and oil fired electrical generating stations. If we only solved the storage problem we would still be burning coal to make electricity.
While that's an astute observation, it's not my point.
It's also somewhat imprecise: most petrochemical deposits were made ~650 - 65 million years ago. But that's just a nit.
I'm not concerned with where and when existing hydrocarbons were deposited. Merely their very high energy density and (for now) extremely high prevalence. High enough that it's more feasible to operate cars by combusting petroleum than it is to run them on batteries with 10 year lifetimes and 93% recoverability in recycling, simply because there isn't enough accessible lithium on the planet to create enough batteries to replace the cars already on the road.
Even if you had a cost-effective energy source, lithium-ion batteries aren't going to give us enough storage capacity. Due to a shortage of storage medium, not energy.
Which means something else has to give: we don't all own private automobiles (leasing or hiring autonomous vehicles when needed might make this possible). Or we use other storage media: lead-acid, flywheels, compressed air. Or, as you suggest (and I suspect), synthetically generated hydrocarbons, either liquid or gas.
The known efficiencies of this last process are low: at best, maybe 10% of incident sunlight, more likely somewhere between 0.1% to 1%. Which is actually far better than the net efficiency of the production of existing fossil hydrocarbons, it's just that they've accumulated over hundreds of millions of years. As the paper below illustrates, in one year (1997), human fossil fuel consumption amounted to some 422 times the plant matter fixed via photosynthesis (net primary productivity or NPP). Fossil fuel consumption from 1751 - 1998 corresponds to over 13,300 years of NPP. Which is actually somewhat less than I'd have thought.
Net photosynthetic efficiency is around 2.4%. Conversion of biomass to hydrocarbons is the great unknown. Transportation amounts for roughly 1/4 of global energy use. I'll assume that large measures of this might be substituted by other than liquid fuels (EVs, human power, electrified passenger and freight rail, substituting high-speed rail for air), but a significant portion of long-haul land, water, and virtually all air traffic will likely require a highly dense chemical fuel. That will mean one or more of: synthetic (carbon-neutral) hydrocarbons, carbon offsets while continuing to use fossil fuels (while they last), and/or a hell of a lot less transportation. Or create a runaway greenhouse situation.
Frankly none of the options is great.
Replacing all present fossil fuel use with existing biomass would require 22% of the present total primary productivity of the planet, a 50% increase of the amount of NPP humans already consume. And that's if we're counting on using biomass directly, not relying on conversion to other forms (e.g.: ethanol), which drastically reduces net photosynthetic conversion efficiency. Last time I checked, we don't typically run cars on wood or straw (though ships once ran predominantly on solid coal).
Sounds like it'll be a while before we know exactly how much of it we can mine.
If the Wyoming deposit it real (their numbers wouldn't float for a listed company and they're short on details), it's probably 10+ years away from production. Neat discovery, but very speculative.
http://www.westernlithium.com/project/ is the Kings Valley project.
In a best-case scenario, the 2,000-square-mile Rock Springs Uplift could harbor up to 18 million tons of lithium [http://www.uwyo.edu/uw/news/2013/04/uw-researchers-lithium-d...]
It's easy to drill more wells or build more ponds.
I work in the industry and, as luck would have it, am on a project near the facility in Nevada.
my understanding is that the Lithium in a used battery is still perfectly good to be used in another battery.
Practically, once prices become 3x of current, that's what everyone will pay on average, it just means (in this thought experiment) that some miner sourcing from America is marginally profitable, while some miner from South America is very profitable.
If this stuff is more expensive than Bolivian lithium, we won't do more than tinker with it until it's not, and consequently I wouldn't expect it to have much impact on the price curve — we'll all still be buying the same stuff until then.
The Jevons Paradox - in my understanding - applies to our use of a resource, not its collection. I'm sure our demand for lithium will go up, but again that's not the Jevons Paradox - that's basic supply and demand.
My understanding is that the reason China has such a huge fraction of lithium production is driven largely by their willingness to execute the very dirty refining process themselves.
Lithium's one of the lightest metals, so a little bit goes a long way.
My point is this: If a Tesla would be a petrol-powered vehicle, how much would it cost? Now find out WHY/WHERE there's a difference and look at that.
Isn't it as simple as "because they can"?
A Patek Phillipe watch is lovely, but probably doesn't have $30,000 worth of materials and labour involved. The rest is just pricing for a luxury good.
Generally: Companies try to give you the best for the money.
On the one hand it's a major source of income swiped away underneath them. But on the other hand, if this source of income was property in the hands of only a few (I'm not at all sure if/how this is the case), shaking things up may have very different consequences (also not necessarily good ones btw).
It's equally interesting that both seem recyclable as well.