Lithium could help us ditch fossil fuels. But mining is messy – by Stephen Leahy (MACLEAN’S Magazine – December 17, 2019)

The essential element could help us eliminate fossil fuels. But we need to find better ways to mine it.

The world’s electrical power and transportation systems need to become fossil-fuel-free to keep climate change to less than two degrees. Mark Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, says that transitioning to 100 per cent clean, renewable energy is entirely doable by 2050, with much in place by 2030.

“Sixty-one countries have already committed to 100 per cent renewable energy,” Jacobson told participants at an international conference that addressed the question “Can we mine our way out of the climate crisis?” this past November in Ottawa.

But the transition will demand a significant amount of metals and minerals to build the solar panels and wind turbines that will be needed to generate electricity, and make batteries for storing energy and powering vehicles.

One of those essential materials is lithium. Lithium-ion batteries are ubiquitous in modern phones and laptops. There are between five and 10 kilograms of pure lithium in electric vehicle batteries.

Replacing the world’s 1.2 billion fossil-fuelled vehicles with ones powered by batteries is going to require a heck of a lot of lithium. In fact, global lithium production needs to increase 8,840 per cent from current levels, says Elsa Dominish, a sustainability researcher at the University of Technology Sydney.

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