Electric cars like the 2011 Nissan Leaf require lots of lithium and other precious heavy metals to make them go. Today's sources of lithium are far and few: Bolivia has something like 40 percent of the world's deposits, while Russia, South Africa, Chile and Argentina have some.

This weekend, the New York Times reported that the war-ravaged country of Afghanistan could have as much lithium as all of them.

In an irony that tweaks environmentalists and neoconservatives equally well, the huge deposits of lithium in Afghanistan could forever change that nation's economy and could turn its nearly nonexistent economy into a mining powerhouse.

Lithium is the vital chemical piece in the latest generation of electric-car batteries. It's a far more capable storage material for energy than the old nickel-cadmium batteries, and manufacturers are playing with new formulations that could advance capacity even from today's lithium-ion batteries. Hyundai, for example, is using lithium-polymer batteries in the 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, while experimentation with lithium-air batteries continues.

The Times adds that the Pentagon has conducted fly-over missions to assess the size of Afghanistan's mineral deposits, which also include copper, iron and other valuable assets. The military estimates the impoverished nation could be sitting on $1 trillion in untapped wealth--and that a single deposit in Ghazni province could be as large as all the lithium deposits in Bolivia.

[New York Times via Jon at HybridsCentral]