Wyoming Lithium To Make U.S. Self-Sufficient In Electric-Car Batteries?

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Lithium-ion battery pack for 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV electric car

Lithium-ion battery pack for 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV electric car

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It's a major threat to national security: A natural resource needed by one or many nations is controlled by only a few countries, which don't much like how the rest of the world runs itself.

It applies to oil.

It applies to rare-earth metals.

Some worry it also applies to lithium, the element used in batteries that power the fast-growing segment of plug-in electric vehicles.

But in the future, the U.S. may be able to supply all the lithium it needs for the battery cells used in electric cars--even at much higher volumes than are sold today.

Data recently released by University of Wyoming researchers indicates that the state's Rock Springs Uplift contain brines that could yield hundreds of thousands of tons of lithium.

The best-case scenario is that the deposits might contain as much as 18 million tons of lithium--or several hundred years' worth at current production rates.

The brines were discovered 10,000 feet below the ground while university researchers were looking for sites to store carbon dioxide.

At least in theory, in the future, power-plant operators might pay to dispose of their carbon-dioxide output (which they now release into the atmosphere), and mine operators could simultaneously sell the brine they pump out to create caverns to store the CO2.

More broadly, the discovery highlights the fact that lithium resources are broadly dispersed across the globe.

While Chile and Argentina are currently the world's largest producers and exporters of the lithium found throughout the Andes Mountains, about half the world's currently known resources are in Bolivia.

Grand Teton, Wyoming

Grand Teton, Wyoming

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Today, the U.S. imports 80 percent of the lithium it uses industrially, with the remainder supplied from brines recovered in Nevada.

But the Wyoming discovery could make the U.S. entirely self-sufficient in lithium, allowing essentially all parts of a plug-in electric car to be manufactured in North America.

It is, perhaps, ironic that while Wyoming could supply the natural resource required to make electric cars entirely domestic, it was rated worst among six Southwestern states for policies promoting plug-in adoption.

In future, state pride could be invoked to encourage residents to adopt plug-in vehicles: "Driving locally with batteries mined right here at home!"

Well, maybe.


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Comments (31)
  1. Lithium is fully recyclable, right? We will be able to recycle virtually all the lithium batteries; just like we already are doing with poisonous lead acid batteries.


  2. Lithium can be fully recycled but you can't manufacture a million new lithium batteries by recycling ten thousand old ones. Besides, I don't plan on recycling my lithium car battery for a good long time, so no dibs ;-)

  3. Norm, I think Neil is talking about in the future. When the current crop of batteries are ready for recycle, and nobody expects ALL new batteries to be made from recycled batteries.

  4. adding to Norm's comment, one thing we need to look at is the battery lifecycle which "could" be as little as 2-3 years in very hot areas or 10 years in cooler climates FOR TRANSPORATION but expect another 7-10 years on top of that for storage purposes where the weight/performance ratio is not critical. so it could take decades for current EV batteries to get to the recycle center.

  5. Neil, There are numerous battery recyclers. Toxco being one. Ultimately, lithium recycling will be a big business.

  6. Surprised that there wasn't a comment about the "cost of extraction". My limited understanding of these things is that it is often not a shortage of material in the USA that is the problem so much as the cost of extraction for the resources we have is too high compared to world prices.

  7. Whether the cost of extraction is too high is a moving target. The history of the Mountain Pass rare earth mine in California is a good example. Cost of extraction closed the mine until China restricted rare earth exports - we have now reopened it. It's good to know the lithium is there if we need it.

  8. Check out Simbol Materials. We are a start-up working to produce lithium from the geothermal resource in southern California. We are currently at demonstration scale. However, when we have built our commercial scale plants this area (the Imperial Valley) will likely be called the "Lithium Valley" given the size of this resource. Due to the fact that the geothermal resource does the solution mining for us our "cost of extraction" and the fact that this is a domestic supply should make us very competitive.

  9. That is largely correct for both lithium and the rare earths. On the other hand, for lithium at least, there is no real shortage of supply. Companies like FMC and Rockwood lithium have ample world production, mostly in south america, but Rockwood also has a production facility in Silver Peak Nevada. If you want to see something cool, check out both Mountain Pass CA (rare earth mine) and Silver Peak Nevada (Lithium brine ponds) on google earth.

  10. 200 years at the current rate"

    We will convert away from combustion engines at some point. If the battery works as well as hoped, meaning double the density and 1/2 the price, it will be within 10 or 15 years that we ramp up and we will need 7 to 10 million battery packs a year. If it doesn't then we will move on to some other technology. Either way we don't need over 50 or 60 years worth

  11. If the U.S. price of lithium is higher than the foreign price, car buyers should have the option which they want to buy.

  12. It's the same old story with just about every scarcity that Malthusians have ever predicted would destroy us. Increased use brings higher prices and mans ingenuity and desire to make a buck steps up and we find more.

  13. It only applies to oil. Rare earths are not rare, but outside of China no one can do it as cheap. There are plenty of good sources, just not efficient companies with cheap labor. Lithium is very plentiful and makes up very little of the actual cost of a lithium ion battery. If you double the price of lithium, you raise the cost of a lithium ion battery by only about 2%. However, double the price of lithium and many many known lithium sources become economically feasible to develop. Not to mention, that lithium can be recycled. The rare earths can be recycled too. So, not exactly oil. Oil is a finite resource with ever increasing production costs that limits our economy and which we destroy permanently when we used it.

  14. Oh, I should mention. Bolivia is too far behind in technology and their lithium is not needed. They will never be able to compete with the current producers because they are socialists and lithium is a commodity market that requires low cost manufacturing. So, even though Boliva may have much of the worlds reserves, we will never need to tap those reserves and they will never be able to compete. If anyone trie to raise the price of lithium they just bring in more competition. If they had oil like argentina, then they would have us over a barrel, but not with lithium. You see, oil we destroy and spew out our tail pipes. Lithium sits in the battery and doesn't go away. That's why corporations like oil, as it becomes more scarce it makes more money.

  15. Please have a look at

  16. Can we stop fretting about lithium and read a little?


  17. Rare Earth Metal is NOT "rare" at all. In fact, it is all over the earth. The fact that it is "rare" is b/c it is NEVER easily extract or in a high concentration. Just about every large nation on earth has plenty of it. Canada, Russia, US, Brazil, Austrilia, India, Mexico and of course China all have large reserve of it.

    Extracting REM is a dirty business. So, with few regulation, lower labor standard and quick profit over long term environmental impact mentality, China managed to squeez most of the competition out of business.

  18. Continued: Now, with control of most of the production of raw REM, China can increase price on the material by control its supply. It also wants technology transfer by giving perference to local production of higher value items based on REM. In a way, it is forcing foreign company to set up production in China in order to have access of the raw material. By doing so, China can upgrade itself in the high tech supply chain of REMs. In the process, it also closes down some of the smaller scale and dirtier mines.

    But by doing so, it is only forcing our nations to look elsewhere and opening up mines that has been closed for decades...

    We throw away millions of computer HDD per year. That is enough REM for many EV motors.

  19. It is funny to watch a state like Wyoming that was rated worst among other states for policies promoting EVs change its stand. That reminds me of the stand of Ghoson, the Nissan CEO. He was an EV hater at one point, and now, listen to him fighting for them. Ada boy.

  20. I wonder how long before Dick Cheney gets involved!

  21. Cheney and all of them will come around once EV's start putting the big 3 out of business.

  22. FYI, big 3 all have their own EV offerings. GM has the Volt and upcoming Spark EV. Ford has various Focus EV and varous energi models. Chrysler and Dodge don't have anything with a plug, but its parent company Fiat has a Fiat 500e.

    So, they are all in the market somewhat.

    As much as I love EVs and Tesla, I just don't see any EVs replacing majority of F-150, Silverado, Ram and various of their truck/SUV offering.

    Go to some of the MidWest and take a look around and you will understand why. Even hybrids such as Prius are hard to find in those locations.

  23. Dick already owns Wyoming, based on his investments in Halliburton and his planning and execution of the "Wars to Protect Israel and Oil Profits" in the middle east.

  24. longest range of the tesla is 200 miles. in wyoming, that might get you to the walmart and back. thus the need for longer range. ie gas powered vehicles.

  25. @Vincent: Well, not quite. The 85-kWh version of the Tesla Model S is rated at 265 miles by the EPA:

    Owners may get more or less depending on speed, temperature, and of course their driving style.

  26. Vincent is trying to make the oilman's point that EV's are not appealing, but missing the whole picture while he's at it.

  27. So what's your point? People from Wyoming are not gonna buy EV's, fortunately for the world, there are more people living in areas that are more urbane and therefore EV's make a big appeal to us.
    So, thanks for the negativity.

  28. Also worth noting that Wyoming is the least populous state in the country, with fewer people than Rhode Island. It has 576,000 residents as of the 2012 census. Within a few years, their actions will likely be outweighed by a great number of Californians owning plug-in cars.

  29. That is only going to happen if California continue its incentives policy and plugins continue to improve in range, performance and price.

  30. Lithium will go the way of the dodo bird when some other technology outperforms and out values it.

  31. Wyoming a Southwestern state? Wow somebody failed 7th grade geography.

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