Where did the raw material for the battery of electric cars come from?


It is not possible to run electric vehicles without lithium. Research on e-vehicles is happening in Europe, but the long-term availability of lithium is a big question. Europe is importing lithium from Latin America despite having sufficient reserves. However, getting lithium from there is proving to be expensive. Apart from these, a lot of energy and chemicals are consumed in its recycling. Are there other ways to get Lithium?

To know this, first one has to understand the chemistry of lithium. Lithium found in nature is not always available in its purest form. It is associated with other elements. This happens because of the position of the electrons in it. There is an electron vacancy in it, which it easily leaves to form a chemical bond. Separating lithium from these substances is usually a complicated process.

Simple cost-effective way to extract lithium

But this is not the case in Latin America. More than half of the world’s lithium reserves are present in this area. Here it is mixed with salt under the white layer of salt water lakes. It is easy to remove. Water is taken out of the lake and allowed to evaporate. In this way, the water evaporates and the lithium rich material is saved. Then chemicals are used to separate the lithium. Some of these chemicals are poisonous.

Lithium production in Bolivia, Chile and ArgentinaPicture: MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP

Apart from this, when salt water is extracted from the lake, it also draws groundwater, which is a big problem in the arid area here. Three to 12 thousand liters of water is spent to make a medium range electric car battery. Experts believe that haphazard exploitation of groundwater can turn these lithium-rich areas into deserts. This is a great price for our batteries.

Portugal can fulfill Europe’s demand

Portugal has enough lithium to meet the demand of the whole of Europe. However, conservationists in Europe are also concerned about the effects of lithium mining. Large-scale mining will soon begin in Barroso, in the northern part of Portugal. But the people of Barroso area are worried about their land.

Lithium will bring economic progress or disaster

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Local farmer Paulo Pires says, “The mine will be 200 meters away from the houses. It will waste the water here and the fresh grass and bushes of the plains will get stuck with dust, ruined.” Farmers are afraid that their land will not be as good as before.

what is germany planning

Apart from being Europe’s largest economy, Germany is also home to automobile giants such as Mercedes, Audi, Volkswagen and BMW. These companies are gradually bringing new electric models in the market. In such a situation, Germany is trying to find new ways to meet the demand for lithium. According to an estimate, Germany has 2.7 million tonnes of lithium. This quantity is the highest in the whole of Europe.

Lithium production factory in Uini, Bolivia
Lithium production factory in Uini, Boliviaphoto: picture alliance/dpa

Several other members of the European Union also have reserves of lithium, but mining is either difficult or too expensive. In such a situation, scientists want to use geothermal power for both electricity and lithium. Germany’s lithium reserves are buried thousands of meters below the Rhine River, in sources of boiling water. Scientists hope that geothermal electricity can be used to extract lithium.

Lower emissions in Germany’s lithium production

The idea is to extract the hot water at great depths for heating and electricity. Only then lithium should also be taken out. “The lithium we are producing here in the Upper Rhine Valley is completely CO2-free,” says Dr. Horst Kreuter, Director General of Vulkan Energy Resources. Unlike lithium from Australia and South America, which requires long transport routes and production technology emits a lot of CO2 because of.”

But whether it is economically viable as well, it remains to be seen. Recycling lithium is another way to reduce its import. And the European Union wants to speed up the process of recycling gradually. But extracting lithium from recycled batteries requires a lot of energy and chemicals. At present, this method is not very effective because lithium coming from South America is not very expensive despite the increase or decrease in the price.

Report: Carstein Grunder, Anke Riedel


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