Essential Lithium & Essential Water

Brine pools at the Soquimich lithium mine on a salt flat in northern Chile. IVAN ALVARADO / REUTERS VIA ALAMY

On my one visit to the Atacama desert in 2009 I had a feeling unlike any I had previously experienced, and it was attributed to the lithium. There is so much, you can feel it. And to put it simply, it feels good. I knew it was being mined, but I assumed it was primarily for pharmaceutical use; no clue it would become so important for batteries. And this set up a sort of zero-sum game, which Fred Pearce helps to understand:

The Lithium Triangle region. YALE ENVIRONMENT 360

Why the Rush to Mine Lithium Could Dry Up the High Andes

The demand for lithium for EV batteries is driving a mining boom in an arid Andes region of Argentina, Chile, and Bolivia, home to half the world’s reserves. Hydrologists are warning the mines could drain vital ecosystems and deprive Indigenous communities of precious water.

What environmental price should the world be willing to pay for the metals needed to switch to electric vehicles? The question is being asked urgently in South America where there are growing fears that what is good for the global climate may be a disaster for some of the world’s rarest and most precious ecosystems — salt flats, wetlands, grazing pastures, and flamingo lakes high in the Andean mountains. Continue reading

Is This the New Super Battery?

A cassette tape—the origin, incredibly, of how batteries are made.(AP Photo)

A cassette tape—the origin, incredibly, of how batteries are made.(AP Photo)

Since about 2010, a critical mass of national leaders, policy professionals, scientists, entrepreneurs, thinkers and writers have all but demanded a transformation of the humble lithium-ion cell. Only batteries that can store a lot more energy for a lower price, they have said, will allow for affordable electric cars, cheaper and more widely available electricity, and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. This is where Yet-Ming Chiang enters the picture. A wiry, Taiwanese-American materials-science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Chiang is best known for founding A123, a lithium-ion battery company that had the biggest IPO of 2009.

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