back to list

Lithium: Mining Batteries Out Of The Desert

A non-renewable renewable energy source


What's going on?

The world is beginning to shift to renewable energy due to concerns about their environmental impact, and the numbers are growing exponentially over the decades. Renewables made up 26.2% of total energy production in 2018, and that figure is expected to rise even further in the coming decades. One emerging sector in this field is in transportation, as the future of sustainable transportation has been a critical discussion globally. Although internal combustion engines have become far more efficient, they still pollute the environment and hence the introduction of electric vehicles, powered by batteries.


Batteries are used in everything from cellphones to laptops, and they all require the element lithium. Lithium is mined primarily in South America, in some of the driest places on earth. This is a problem, requiring vast amounts of water to remove the lithium. By comparison, for every thousand kilograms of lithium extracted, over 200,000 kilograms of water is needed. In countries such as Chile, lithium mining consumed 65% of the entire region’s water. The mining process can also leach toxic materials through water sources or acid rain. Fortunately, lithium is still fairly common as a natural resource, enabling an orderly research process to find less harmful ways to mine it.


However, there is also a need for moderation and sustainability as the future of lithium battery seems bright, but the future of the environment due to lithium mining looks a little uncertain. While lithium seems set to become the next oil in terms of its ubiquity, it hopefully would not be the same in its environmental toll. From a constructive angle, it is certainly curious how renewable energy still depends on a non-renewable, environmentally harmful source.