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Lithium batteries or ?

Will electric batteries made from lithium solve our need to desist from fossil fuel energy? Climate change strongly motivates a shift from lead-based batteries to the current mineral lithium. The federal government is listening. A federal agency within the Department of Energy just proposed new energy conservation standards for a “subset of electric motors” powerful enough for transportation, commercial, and industrial equipment. An electric car battery has a life span of 15-20 years. It’s low cost in maintenance, saves about $600-700 in fuel, motor emissions are low and the battery is rechargeable.

Blog by Sr. Roberta Miller, OP

 Why is lithium the chosen element for batteries? Lithium is the lightest solid metal element because it has the lowest density of all elements which are solids at room temperature. Another candidate is magnesium which is also low-density, has a more powerful charge, and is safer to process than lithium. (Lithium is toxic in its dust and brine water and, when wet, becomes highly flammable.) However, magnesium is heavier and does not recharge as easily as lithium. Thus lithium batteries are a mixed metal compound of lithium, nickel, manganese and cobalt to provide stability and safety—unless the battery is broken or tossed into a landfill.

While the upfront environmental impact of using lithium for electric energy sounds positive, the negative impact of its acquisition from the mineral to production is quite harmful.

Lithium is mined from igneous rock in Australia, Brazil, Zimbabwe, and the US Black Hills with the rock crushed, milled, and put into evaporation ponds. The other method is using salt flats as in the high-altitude saline deserts of the Andes. Brine in the underground aquifers is pumped to the surface; the water evaporates until only the lithium is left. [Brine is groundwater with salt and dissolved lithium.] Each ton of lithium requires 2 million liters/5 million gallons of water in the evaporation process.

Environmental damages from mining and flotation processes include freshwater shortages, soil degradation, and loss of biodiversity with upset ecosystems. While some corporations such as Sigma Lithium promote “green” renewable energy with water recycling and local development, what is not said are the dangers of the mine waste when rain or winds come in, the contamination of lakes, rivers, and land, the amount of CO2 emissions released in the production processes, or the precautions as facial masks necessary for human processing.

Yes, technology can be developed to reduce human emissions of heat-trapping gases and to develop new sources of energy, but at what level of harm to us and all Nature? For example, only 3% of all Earth’s water is fresh for agriculture, industry, and life itself. With our current consumption rate, including mining activities and processes such as nuclear cooling and evaporation and climate changes, fresh water is dwindling rapidly. Socially, populations of humans and creatures are displaced with numbers pushed into areas unfit or dangerous for health, well-being, or living. The bonds of relationships and the meaning of life are disrupted/broken leading to economic/political instability.

Rather than depending on technological advances for our and Earth’s continued existence, why not slow down our paces of life? While entirely ceasing fossil fuel use may not be possible now, we can and should strive to make radical lifestyle changes—accepting responsibility for the harm to ourselves and Earth we cause. Do we not need instead to focus on building slower lives of peaceful relationships based upon respect for all of life as given to us and our Earth with its birds, fish, animals, and other living beings? Then we just might enjoy the beauty of the sun rising and setting, the sounds of birds and gentle breezes and hear the spirit within each of us.


Click here for an article from the Global Sisters Report on lithium mining.

Click here for an article from NCR on protecting sacred indigenous sites from lithium mining.

5 thoughts on “Lithium batteries or ?

  1. I’d love a slower life, and I’d love to continue my ministry and the care of a relative. To do those, I have to drive; no safe way to bike and no public transportation. Not only do electric cars use lithium, but all cars use more and more aluminum, which pollutes in ways similar to lithium. It is a conundrum. Thanks for having us think about it.

  2. Thanks so much, Roberta, for your well-thought out analysis of the use of lithium. Everything has a cause and effect so being made aware of this, helps us to think about and examine our understandings.

  3. Thank you, I also am thinking of the people who harvest the lithium in poor countries, and the harm to the people’s health. Electric cars sound good or are to be better but cause many deaths to those who dig and are underpaid or not paid. Thank you for having us think about this issue.

  4. Thank you for the well-researched blog on lithium. This is important information for us to consider and well-timed as we think about which pollution causing cars to purchase in the future.
    If a remember correctly, an along the coast of California has recently been located for lithium mining.

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