Could lithium become the new oil? – by Vikram Mansharamani (PBS Newshour – October 15, 2015)

Vikram Mansharamani is a lecturer in the Program on Ethics, Politics & Economics at Yale University and a senior fellow at the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government at the Harvard Kennedy School.

I recently spoke with a group of Nigerian leaders who were visiting Yale. I expressed to them my confidence in the long-term outlook for oil demand. A booming middle class in the emerging markets, I argued, would consistently demand more fuels. They were engaged throughout my talk and cared about many different topics, but kept returning one.

“OK, but Vikram, what will oil prices be next year?” I answered honestly, “I don’t know.”

Several other questions came up, but then another person asked, “OK, very compelling presentation, thank you. But do you think oil prices will be higher or lower next year than they are today?” Again, I pleaded ignorance.

The process continued, and eventually, everyone was laughing about the persistent focus on oil prices.

Oil has long been a source of geopolitical and economic power. It’s driven countries to war; it’s propped up dictatorships. There’s a lot riding on the price of oil, and it rightfully garners disproportionate attention. Some observers stress about whether OPEC will try to manipulate oil prices, while others predict its demise. But this focus may be concealing another very important development, one in which you are personally involved.

Have a cordless land-line (remember those?) or a smartphone? A tablet? Well, they all depend on batteries. Batteries suffuse our lives on an everyday basis, even if we only notice them when they run low on charge. In fact, the “Low Battery” warning generates enough angst that a rechargeable charger industry has rapidly sprung up and is today thriving.

Of course, we may soon need to have rechargeable chargers to recharge the rechargeable chargers once they run low, and heaven help us, we’re 10 minutes away from a traditional outlet… But I digress. My point is very straightforward: We have an insatiable thirst for stored and easily transported power.

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