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Lithium (in battery form) seems to be in just about everything these days, largely because lithium-based battery systems are rechargeable. That has made it the supposed fuel of the future. Yet lithium faces any number of technical drawbacks — it doesn’t charge or discharge quickly, it isn’t particularly energy-dense, and it doesn’t deal well with vibration, limiting its use in the transport sector.

Perhaps the biggest drawback is that it is not as guilt-free a replacement of fossil fuels as many would like to believe. Like its partner materials cobalt and graphite, lithium isn’t particularly rare but its primary production zones are both not necessarily easy to get to and surrounded by the same sorts of environmental degradation that make oil and gas the boogeymen.

It’s also a finite resource being subbed in as part of a renewable energy movement, leading to one inevitable outcome: there will be a mid-term surge in geopolitical relevance (and markets!) in places like Chile where economically viable deposits of lithium can be harvested, followed by a bust whenever technology advances and we crack the battery code and move onto other, better component materials.

 

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