Three women trek into the barren Nevada desert, boots crunching down a wash until one of them stops at an overhang, pulls out a geology pick, and chips away a chunk of rock. Over the next few minutes, and during hours of interviews, they explain the relationship between this stone and the battery that powers your electric car.
They talk about prehistoric volcanoes, subterranean brine lakes, advanced technology and the mineral that is changing the future of our planet. Lithium. This curiosity of the periodic table is an element so sensitive it can’t be found alone in nature. The pure white metal, when exposed to air, promptly oxidizes and turns black.
Since discovery in 1817, the lightest metal on earth has been used for everything from treatment of bipolar disorder to manufacturing thermonuclear devices. It’s a metal, a drug and a power source.
Some call it “white gold,” or “the new gasoline,” because it has emerged as the favored battery energizer for today’s electric vehicles, plus almost anything that plugs in. Amid surging oil prices and the growing climate consequences of fossil-fuel pollution, the market has boomed, sending lithium prices up almost 500 percent in a year—triggering a global race to find and extract mother lodes.
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