The dirty secret behind lithium batteries

Lithium batteries are the mainstay of electric vehicles. But research suggests lithium mining can be detrimental to the environment, destroying soil structure and disturbing the water table.

Electric vehicles (EVs) are expected to account for 60% of new car sales by 2030. In addition, governments around the world are pushing to accelerate the transition to EVs to reduce the impact of EV-based vehicles. fossil fuels in the environment.

lithium battery production
The Salinas Grandes mine is one of the largest lithium mines in Argentina. (Lithium extraction in Salinas Grandes; Image credit – Shutterstock)

lithium batteries and usage

Lithium batteries are essential for an electric and rechargeable future. They are lightweight and play a crucial role in the world’s transition away from fossil fuel-based products. Lithium-ion batteries have now become a part of everyday life and are even used in wheelchairs, bicycles, scooters, and other mobility aids.

As they offer long-lasting power, lithium batteries are also used in solar panels. Batteries charge batteries and are highly efficient. Lithium batteries also have a self-discharge rate that is 10 times lower than lead-acid batteries, making them ideal for situations where they are not under continuous use.

Is lithium good for the environment?

Over the years, the demand for lithium has steadily increased as sales of electric vehicles have increased. Electric vehicles, laptops, mobile phones and other devices are powered by lithium batteries. But as the world moves toward clean energy using electric vehicles, let’s take a look at just how dirty lithium mining can get.

As the world becomes electrified, the environmental effect of lithium mining has been buried in the news.

Until 2021, lithium producers increased their pace and area, as demand soared. From salty brine soils in Chile and other dry regions to Australia and North Carolina, lithium mining has contaminated local ecosystems on an unprecedented scale.

Lithium batteries: the environmental enemy

The world currently produces enough lithium to meet demand, but over the next decade demand is expected to increase tenfold. For now, the world has enough lithium reserves to be exploited. But the problem lies in the lithium extraction process.

Lithium is generally found in underground clay deposits, ores, or underground water bodies. The removal of these deposits disturbs the soil, the water table and causes damage to the local ecosystem. Any form of extraction tends to harm the planet. Lithium mining is no different. It also releases huge amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases during the process.

According to a Friends of the Earth (FoE) report, lithium mining is jeopardizing access to clean water for people living near mining sites. From a 0% market share in 1991 to an 80% share in 2007, the use of lithium in rechargeable batteries has skyrocketed. While electric vehicles can help you reduce carbon emissions, the process of extracting lithium is carbon intensive.

Aside from the damage caused during extraction, toxic chemicals are needed to process lithium. The release of such chemicals through leaching, spills, or air emissions can harm communities, ecosystems, and food production. In addition, the extraction process disturbs the soil and also causes air pollution. The chemical components of the metal are also responsible for causing respiratory problems among humans and animals.

The future of lithium mining and extraction is directly linked to demand. As the continued use of lithium-ion battery-powered electronics increases, this demand shows no signs of slowing down. In general, the extraction and production of lithium-based batteries contribute directly to global warming.

Experts have called for extensive studies on the long-term impact of this mined metal and how it can be managed. Extensive social and environmental laws are also needed to regulate the acquisition, processing and use of this metal.

If left unchecked, we could find ourselves in the midst of the very crisis we are trying to avoid.

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