Lithium is a hot commodity these days, thanks to its role in powering electric vehicles and lithium-ion batteries. The soft, silver-white metal is highly flammable and reactive, so it is stored in mineral oil to prevent corrosion and tarnish. Commercial lithium production involves electrolysis to isolate the element from a mixture of potassium chloride and lithium chloride. Lithium also has other applications appealing to entrepreneurs, including lubricating greases, glass and ceramics, metallurgy, nuclear fusion, and medication for bipolar disorder.
New technologies like Direct Lithium Extraction (DLE) are revolutionizing the way we extract lithium, and are projected to help meet the growing demand. The benefits of DLE include decreasing production times, increasing recovery, and reducing the need for freshwater, reagents, and evaporation ponds.
With demand expected to increase twenty-two-fold by 2030, the global lithium economy is on the rise. Chile has the largest lithium reserves, followed by Australia, which is currently the largest producer. Other lithium-producing countries include China, Argentina, and the United States. However, the U.S. holds just 3.6% of global lithium reserves, which means reliance on the international mining industry is greater than ever. As demand for lithium continues to grow, so does the need for mines specializing in graphite, cobalt, nickel, REEs, manganese, copper, silicon, chromium, and zinc.
In conclusion, lithium is a vital component of the energy economy, and its importance is only expected to grow in the coming years. As we explore new ways to extract and use lithium, we must also consider the environmental and ethical implications of mining and processing this valuable mineral.