Unlike other elements such as sodium and potassium, lithium only exists in trace amounts in the earth’s crust. However, the element is very active and is spread in many different ways in nature, including being enriched in salt lakes and mines.
Moreover, the element has unique properties which make it an excellent raw material for producing lithium-ion batteries. However, the lithium industry needs to rethink its production model because making money is not easy. The profit margin of the battery business is very low, while the extraction process uses a lot of water.
The demand for lithium is growing rapidly because of the energy transition to renewable power and electric vehicles. It’s estimated that the world will need 86 million tonnes of lithium by 2040. The majority of it will be extracted from Latin America, where Bolivia, Argentina and Chile are considered part of the “lithium triangle”.
According to the UNDP, the extraction of lithium requires about 2.2 million litres of water for every ton of lithium. This is a big drain on regional water supplies.
In China, the Yangtze River Basin is a lithium-rich region. It contains a number of large cities, such as Shanghai. The city has a highly developed electronic consumer market and rapid economic growth, which promote the consumption of lithium products. It is also a pioneer in the popularization of electric vehicles. However, the impact of this development on the environment is still unknown.