Comments

thread_id 6d
Classic example of a hidden economic and social cost of a technology that is not born by the final end use of the products - in this case storage of electricity for many applications.
yuan43 6d
> Lithium is the lightest of all metals. Soft and malleable with a high capacity to store energy, it is ideal material to make lightweight, rechargeable batteries. Demand for the metal for lithium-ion batteries to power mobile devices has risen strongly for three decades. But while mobile-phone batteries require just a tenth of an ounce of lithium carbonate, a typical electric-car battery requires 130 pounds — around 20,000 times as much.

Without a radical breakthrough in batteries, electric cars are not the answer. They are every bit the problem that ICE cars are, it's just that the full environmental costs of the switchover have not been widely-recognized.

elihu 6d
> "But every ton of lithium carbonate extracted from underground using this cheap, low-tech method typically dissipates into the air about half a million gallons of water that is vital to the arid high Andes. The extraction lowers water tables, and because freshwater often sits on top of salty water, this has the potential to dry up the lakes, wetlands, springs, and rivers that flourish where the underground water reaches the surface."

What's the cost of importing 500,000 gallons of water to replace what evaporates? If the miners had to pay that cost, would it still be economical for them to sell that ton of lithium carbonate?

The first result in Google says lithium carbonate costs $17,000 per ton in 2021. It might be more now.

This fluid-hauling train car has a capacity of around 30,000 gallons:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DOT-111_tank_car

So, about 16 train cars worth of water for $17,000 worth of lithium. Not sure if that's a good trade or not. It might depend on how far they have to go for the water. (Maybe sea water would be good enough, if the ground water they're removing is already brine, then maybe adding more salt isn't a problem.)

syassami 6d
I've been following this company as a potential replacement to the evaporative pond method: https://lilacsolutions.com/technology/
newsclues 6d
Are the Taliban sitting on boat leads of the stuff?

Why didn’t the American build a railroad to the ocean!?

gr1zzlybe4r 6d
EVs are the biggest false solution out there. We are looking at decimating larger and larger portions of the planet just to preserve our stubborn dependence on automobiles.

I like automobiles and don't want them banned, but the real problem that we have is that we're dependent on an unscalable transportation solution: cars.

ErikVandeWater 6d
Cars aren't the solution to the future of transportation. Walkable cities and quality public transit between them is.
mark336 6d
The governments of Chile and Bolivia afe now far-left. I wonder what their stance is on extractive industries?
daniel-cussen 6d
Not really. There's a lot up there, the demand is just now scraping the top of the barrel, in Chile for one, there's many many salt flats and huge lithium deposits. Lithium deposits, despite intense interest in exploitation overseas, is met with the 1981 law prohibiting lithium mining because it's a nuclear munition. As though you can't get more than enough from batteries by this point, that's a law that is pure corruption, like totally. Yes lithium is part of the Hydrogen Bomb and increases the yield enormously, and yes it comes from the Altiplano (Chile Bolivia and Perú, and to a lesser extent Argentina) but that never stopped anybody from getting it. Metals are all present everywhere, the only question is that of concentration. For iron and copper and others, concentration determines economic returns almost single-handedly, and it's a huge problem for copper right now in Chile, Chuquicamata gets .73% concentration. So North Korea and Israel didn't seek good concentrations internationally, they didn't go to Olympic Dam in Australia for their uranium--this part I'm divining--rather they mined it at a lower concentration within the country. You don't want to ship this, and in fact there are Geiger counters and suchlike in docks, in New York for one, placed to stop nuclear munitions from being shipped. It's pretty easy to detect. In that case secrecy means local deposits are viable and international deposits are not. So at any rate there is some lithium available for countries locally, now there's lithium mining in Australia like rock mining, which is worse than salt flats by far. Very doubtful America could ever impede other nuclear powers from obtaining lithium in quantities for a bomb. Perhaps once, not now that lithium is in every device and that lithium can not only travel on planes--despite putting airplanes at risk--but it can reach every country. Every country has smartphones, every country has lithium. Every country can improve the yield of a hydrogen bomb.

So really the minute smartphones became commonplace, Chile should have repealed the 1981 lithium law. It did not. It did not because of corruption, in fact Soquimich was investigated as a company listed in the NYSE for corruption, and frankly they were guilty as fuck. For ages they monopolized lithium, only now that there is rock mining and Bolivia and Perú are determined to produce it themselves, Chilean bribes be damned, is there real competition. And the market is rapidly expanding, the monopoly made sense when demand was small, like when lubricants and medication were important uses[1], but now that it's a huge percentage of every modern car's weight, what the hell! So Soquimich "asked" the Nuclear Commission of Chile (whatever it's called in English, there's no ambiguity there is one and that's it) if it could expand production dramatically. Well that's what they said. Soquimich owns not only that office thoroughly (very prolific campaign contributors with bribes underneath, as determined by I think DOJ, in a way that being brought to light won't change because there's pitiful campaign contributions otherwise, there is loyalty, they have power beyond just influence due to the owner being Pinochet's son-in-law), but many many others, but now there is that magical thing that capitalism brings, which makes it actually work, which is competition! Particularly from rock mining. Lithium has gone so far up that rock mining is no longer expensive in such a way that it can be sabotaged by an increase in production by Soquimich, which was the game plan, basically Saudi Arabia of lithium. Well I by this point forgive them somewhat because they are producing much more, they are competing, they are no longer such a tight monopoly doing pretty harmful things, they are in principle interested in ecology (it's in their best interest to be).

So ecology. Lithium buyers want ecology. Whether Soquimich likes it or not (and they're not pure evil they did some shit they got caught they're paying for it a bit, they lost their monopoly, now they compete), but part of the job is selling lithium and for that being ecological is mandatory. Wouldn't want to get a "conflict lithium" designation, that harms business. And it costs little, not a big polluter. I went to the biggest Chilean salt flat, I saw the lithium extraction like pumping down deep into the salt flat, but I saw all this in a tourist destination meant to look at the pink flamingos feeding on shrimp in the salt flat. That is pretty much all the life there is there, shrimp and flamingos. The flamingos were chilling, not afraid of the pump truck, and they were there to eat shrimp, so the shrimp clearly weren't being very prejudiced. That was it, there's no flora of any kind there, not right there nearby there's like dots in the ground some seasons, like nothing. There might be other birds sometimes. I would remember the tourist destination talking about other species, it was really just two...I suppose there was phytoplankton for the shrimp to eat. The tourist destination was really just about the flamingos, which are incredible, and they become pink from eating shrimp, but again if the lithium extraction fucked their life up they would not go within miles of a pump truck like that one. So ecological, and really, lithium extraction opens doors in every government office near a salt flat. Want to get permission to extract lithium, it's easy, "knock knock" "who's there" "lithium" "lithium who" "lithium who pays taxes" boom you're in. Municipal governments want money not to be such a problem, they want a budget, they want to get the wealth in their environment, and by this point it's basically a gold rush, even in Chile. And there is lots. That part of the Andes is the low-cost producer of lithium by a very wide margin, can't even mention a single salt flat worth anything outside that region. These days, lithium is green energy, it's the new oil.

[1] Interesting fact, lithium commodity exports and bipolar medication are the same molecule: lithium carbonate. If you're bipolar in the traditional sense and run out of lithium carbonate pills while near lithium extraction, you can either end up streaking naked through the salt flat--which happens--or ask the extractor for a sample of their commodity, which being a sample will be pretty pure, and deal with bipolarity like that. It's the only example of a commodity that is at the same time medication that I know of. I joke about Chilean lithium, that before like 2020 you shouldn't touch lithium carbonate eve if you were diagnosed bipolar, it's even crazier. It did badly for a very long time, the monopoly and 1981 law were very strong.

thweoiru234 6d
Don't worry. Uncle Sam will ensure that pliable dictators retain power in South America and repress the natives for "freedumb and dumbocracy".