Stack of batteries. Source: wikimedia commons, Marco Verch, CC-BY 2.0

If you are following the news, you could get the impression that all of our climate woes are going to be solved, if we only switched to a battery based – and thus lithium based – transportation and power system.

In this two part blogpost I will give a quick overview on the current situation and expected development of lithium powered mobility, while the second post will give a short overview about the resource lithium: Where it comes from and what this all has to do with Graz.

Most of the current – as of autumn 2017 – hype is of course on Tesla who just announced their new roadster and their semi truck which are promising astonishing feats such as the fastest acceleration in a production car ever – which has some issues, but apparently can be done – and a truck that not only also accelerates quite fantastically for a truck, but apparently is also economical enough for the first orders to already be placed. And it’s not only Tesla. Many others have plans and announcements too. For example there is a new truck announced by Cummins – though still in the concept stage – and Mercedes Benz also has plans for an electric truck. And the latter also did already sell an electric supercar that is fast enough to convince even known petrolheads.

But – as said above – lithium battery powered mobility is not only in the news because Elon Musk is the master of hype and because you can have fun with battery cars, it is also seen as one of the keys to staying mobile without the adverse effects of our current, petrol based system. Finding some real numbers for the current and near-future CO2 emissions of battery electric vehicles (from lithium mining, to battery and car production, its usable lifetime and the source of its electricity) however is rather hard. Most numbers are either relying on scientific articles that have been overtaken by technological progress or websites that are mainly trying to support their left- or rightwing agenda by “proving” that an electric vehicle is/is not better than our current cars. Still, it seems reasonable to assume that these numbers can be brought to “good” levels in the mid to long-term future.

For example, sketching a roadmap for a 100% renewable future, Jacobson et al (2017) assume that battery electric vehicles “dominate short- and long-distance, light-duty ground transportation, construction machines, agricultural equipment, short- and moderate-distance trains, short-distance boats and ships (e.g., ferries, speedboats), and
aircraft traveling less than 1,500 km” whereas battery electric-hydrogen fuels cell hybrids “dominate medium- and heavy-duty trucks and long-distance trains, ships, and aircraft”. And looking at the “well-to-wheel efficiency”, a recent study by PWC concludes that a switch to battery powered light vehicles would increase the electricity use in Germany by +34% vs. +66% for a switch to hydrogen fuel cell cars powered by CO_2 neutral Hydrogen. So a lower increase in needed future electricity production is another benefit besides the obvious climate and air pollution issues.

So, there are a lot of reasons to take lithium seriously. In the next post I will give a short overview about what actually is lithium and where we do get it from.