Whether it is to equip electric vehicles, or to store electricity generated by solar energy installations or wind farms, lithium-ion batteries have become an important part of the energy transition. But in some media and social networks, their ecological footprints are often listed separately. So, is the battery so "dirty"?
Whether it is to equip electric vehicles or to store electricity generated by solar energy installations or wind farms, lithium-ion batteries have become an important part of the energy transition. But in some media and social networks, their ecological footprints are often listed separately. So, is the battery so "dirty"?
In particular, giant batteries are increasingly used to balance power grids. In this case, they can avoid the risk of power outages. But more and more homes and businesses are also installing them to store electricity generated by photovoltaic panels.
Criticisms against them mainly involve their use of "rare earth" or "rare metals", such as cobalt, and the ecological footprint of lithium. The extraction of lithium will consume "astronomical amounts" of water, or they will not or rarely recycle. What exactly is it?
Consumption of lithium and water
Lithium is used in battery electrolytes. None of the constituent materials of the electrode. This light metal accounts for only 2% of the weight of the battery. Contrary to (false) rumors, it is relatively abundant on earth. Like sodium, it belongs to the alkaline family (it is one of the ingredients of table salt), and the content of lithium in seawater is 18 mg/L. Even without considering this resource, the world's recoverable reserves are estimated to be 80 million tons. At its current rate of consumption, it is... 900 years!
Lithium is not only used in batteries, but also in the manufacture of glass and ceramics, grease and lubricants, or steel.
For economic reasons, it is mainly extracted from two types of deposits:
The "brine" found in the groundwater level is under the "salt marsh", that is, the salt deserts mainly found in South America (Bolivia, Argentina, Chile);
Certain lithium-rich rocks are called "pegmatites"; these deposits are found all over the world, including Europe, but are mainly mined in open-pit quarries in Australia, where the lithium concentration is high.
60% of the lithium mining in the world comes from quarries in Australia
Large amounts of lithium have also been detected in some groundwater levels. In Alsace and Germany on the other side of the Rhine, special consideration was given to its development.
Lithium quarries in several European countries are also under preparation, especially in Serbia and Portugal.
Today, 60% of the lithium consumed in the world is extracted from quarries in Australia. In addition, almost all the lithium in the battery electrolyte comes from these, because this use requires very pure lithium; but it is collected from the salt marshes in South America, which has many impurities and high refining costs.
However, when the ecological footprint of lithium batteries was singled out by some people, it was the extraction in salt marshes that was criticized. The "brine" containing lithium chloride is located in the groundwater level at a depth of 1.5 to 60 m below the salt marsh. They are pumped into the evaporation pond and discharged to the surface. Then the lithium chloride is gradually concentrated there and then harvested by a method similar to the production of kitchen salt in salt marshes. A technology that "consumes a lot of water" has been criticized: the production of lithium contained in Tesla batteries (capacity of 64 kWh) will be accompanied by, for example, the consumption of 3,800 to 6,000 liters of water.
At first glance, this does seem to be a lot.
But first, let us notice that this water comes from saltwater containing a lot of salt in the groundwater level under the salt marsh. It is completely unsuitable for drinking and cannot be used to irrigate crops.
Then, a scientific study conducted by researchers at the Helmholtz Institute in Ulm, Germany showed that this amount of water is actually equivalent to the amount of water needed to grow 10 avocados or 30 cups of coffee, and it can even produce:
250 grams beef;
211 liters of gasoline: 1 liter of fuel produced by the petroleum industry consumes 18 liters of water.
Knowing that the lithium contained in this Tesla's battery has not been consumed, which undoubtedly makes it possible to travel more than 500,000 kilometers, and then it can be recycled (see below), and it is not from the Cellars of South America but in Australia Mine, you will undoubtedly know very well that the litigation against batteries and electric vehicles due to the ecological footprint of lithium is absolutely shameful.
Too bad, so multimedia, journalists, and even environmental associations or ecologists are so easily fooled by the oil lobby...