Why this German study that predicts a lithium shortage must be qualified

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According to a study by the German Federal Ministry of Transport, lithium and cobalt, necessary for the manufacture of batteries for electric cars, could be missing in the coming years. However, there are many alternatives that could avoid disaster.

bmw i7
bmw i7

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It’s a fact, electric cars have been gaining popularity over the years. In question, the various public policies aimed at encouraging motorists to abandon internal combustion vehicles, as well as the growing supply on the market. Not to mention the innovations and other novelties, which allow increasing autonomy and reducing the time spent in the terminal. In addition, there are more and more charging solutions, with a constantly expanding network, including in France.

A strong demand

With us, sales of electric cars have even surpassed those of diesel since the start of the 2022 school year. Prove if necessary that this motorization is increasingly attractive, despite some brakes such as autonomy and price. So, now has a market share of 13%. And demand is expected to increase in the coming years, as the European Union plans to ban the sale of internal combustion vehicles from 2035.

Only in Germany these are then no less than 15 million 100% electric cars which should be on the roads by 2030, according to forecasts by the Federal Ministry of Transport. The article published by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung it evoked a figure of just one million by the end of the year 2022. But to ensure this progression, it will be necessary to have sufficient resources to be able to manufacture all these cars. For comparison, in France, as of December 31, 2022, there were 1.1 million electric cars (690,000 electric cars and 410,000 rechargeable hybrids).

And this is where everything gets complicated. In fact, after the shortage of semiconductors, the automobile industry may have to face a shortage of batteries. And more specifically of materials, while the German government is raising the alarm, a few days after a similar position was taken by Toyota, which hardly believes in the electric car.

According to German estimates, then it will be necessary 90,000 tons of lithium and 120,000 tons of cobalt to achieve this goal of 15 million cars. A figure that is not so alarming at first sight, when the annual production is 105,000 and 165,000 tons respectively.

Except this one concerns the entire world. However, according to the International Energy Agency (IAE), it is nothing less than 130 million electric cars will be on the roads around the world by 2030. And there, that changes everything. Because in 2022, 46% of lithium production and 39% of cobalt are already used only for the automotive industry. Figures that will rise to 157% and 133% respectively in the next eight years.

Another problem also arises: extraction. Because if electric cars are often described as “clean” and “zero emissions”, this is far from the case. Because 63% of lithium comes from China, where the extraction conditions are as polluting as they are unethical. It is not better for cobalt, since 73% of the total production comes from the Congowhere only half of the mines are certified as at least basic professional security« .

What solutions?

Therefore, the entire world depends on these two countries to be able to produce and sell electric cars. But is there a risk of shortage? For now, the situation remains very vague for everyone, including specialists. However, there are solutions to limit the damage. First, more and more manufacturers are choosing smaller batteriesas Renault and Ford, as recently announced by their boss, Jim Farley, relayed by the site green car report.

This solution allows to limit the use of materials but also to reduce costs and therefore increase profits for brands. Then it is possible thanks to the faster charging, which makes it possible to compensate for the slightly lower autonomy. Also, big batteries aren’t necessarily the most virtuous either, which inevitably adds to the weight.

Audi factory
Audi factory

In addition, battery recycling should not be neglected either, while certain brands, such as Tesla, which reaches a rate of 92%, are already specialists in the matter. Volkswagen aims to recycle 99% in the next few years, to reduce the demand for lithium around the world. And you should also know that there are still many deposits that have not yet been exploited, either in the form of mines or geothermal brines. We are still far from having exhausted all the world’s resources. Also, we could soon be driving cars on German or French lithium, reducing our dependence on China.

Finally, many companies, including CATL, are working on developing sodium batteries, which then use no lithium at all. The first should be installed in vehicles from the end of the year, probably BYD models, although the firm has denied these rumors. This technology, which nevertheless presents less density compared to conventional accumulators however, it will allow us to wait before the advent of solid-state batteries. These are denser and therefore can store more energy, offering more autonomy despite a small size.

As for cobalt, there are already lithium battery chemistries that don’t use it. This is the case, for example, with LFP batteries, which are found in the Model Y Propulsion and many electric cars. It does not include cobalt at all, unlike NMC and NCA lithium batteries.

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