Infographic: Lithium is the Fuel of the Green Revolution
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Lithium: The Fuel of the Green Revolution

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Lithium: The Fuel of the Green Revolution

Lithium: The Fuel of the Green Revolution

The world is shifting greener.

And while people have always wanted electric cars and inexpensive solar power, the reality is that until recently, battery technology just wasn’t good enough to store energy on an economical or practical basis.

Things have changed, and the green revolution has been kickstarted by battery power. The commercialization of the lithium-ion battery has solved a crucial green energy problem for two major reasons that can be related back to the properties of lithium:

1) Lithium has extremely high electrochemical potential, and so do lithium-ion cells:

Battery cellTypical Voltage
Lithium-ion (Cobalt)3.6V
Lead Acid2.0V
NiMH1.2V
NiCd1.2V

This means one lithium-ion cell can do more – making it much more efficient to use in everything from electronics to energy storage.

2) Lithium is also the lightest metal on the periodic table. Batteries need to be as light as possible, especially in electric cars.

How Lithium Gets Used

2001
Many years ago, lithium was used chiefly for a variety of industrial purposes. Major sources of lithium demand included ceramics, glass, aluminum production, lubricants, and as a catalyst for rubber production.

2015
In modern times, with the commercialization of the lithium-ion, batteries are now the major source of demand for lithium at 39%.

2025
According to a report by Deutsche Bank, in 2025 the battery market for lithium alone will be more than 2x bigger than the total lithium market today.

About 70% of all lithium will go to electric vehicles, e-bikes, traditional batteries, and energy storage, making it the uncontested fuel of the green revolution.

Major Lithium Drivers

Lithium-ion battery demand is primarily driven by rapid growth in the electric vehicle market, which is expected to make up 35% of all vehicle demand by 2040.

But renewable energy storage also plays a role in driving lithium demand. With solar and wind energy being installed at a rapid pace, that means more batteries must be procured to store this energy. This can be done for a home system with a product like Tesla’s Powerwall 2.0, and it is being done on a utility scale as well.

Two Types of Lithium

Prices for lithium have skyrocketed in the last two years – and it is worth knowing the two different types of lithium used by the market.

Lithium carbonate:
This is the first chemical in the production chain, and as a result, sells for less than lithium hydroxide. It can be used as cathode material in some batteries, such as the Nissan Leaf, where it is used in a LMO with NMC formulation (Lithium manganese oxide / nickel manganese cobalt oxide chemistries)

Lithium hydroxide:
This is a by-product of lithium carbonate, created by a metathesis reaction with calcium hydroxide. It can be used to produce cathode material more efficiently and is actually necessary for some types of cathodes. It’s used in the Tesla Powerwall and Model S, for example.

Lithium Mining

There are two basic ways to extract lithium: from brine or from hard rock. The latter mainly consists of spodumene production.

Brine deposits represent about 66% of global lithium resources, and are found mainly in the salt flats of Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, China, and Tibet.

The most famous area for lithium is known as the Lithium Triangle, located on the border between Chile, Argentina, and Bolivia. Salar de Atacama, the world’s third largest salt flat, resides on the Chilean side, and contains about 50% of global reserves.

The largest lithium producers in 2015 were Chile (37%) and Australia (33%). Argentina is the only other double-digit producer at 11%.

Lithium is Fueling the Green Revolution

Here’s the estimated amount of lithium that can be found in everyday items using lithium-ion batteries:

Tesla Model S: 51kg
Electric Vehicles: 10-63kg
Tesla Powerwall 2.0: 10kg
Hybrids: 0.8kg to 2.0kg
Power tool batteries: 40-60g
Laptops: 30-40g
Tablets: 20-30g
Mobile phones: 2-3g

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Energy

Charted: 40 Years of Global Energy Production, by Country

Here’s a snapshot of global energy production, and which countries have produced the most fossil fuels, nuclear, and renewable energy since 1980.

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The Biggest Energy Producers since 1980

Energy was already a hot topic before 2022, but soaring household energy bills and a cost of living crisis has brought it even more to the forefront.

Which countries are the biggest energy producers, and what types of energy are they churning out? This graphic by 911 Metallurgist gives a breakdown of global energy production, showing which countries have used the most fossil fuels, nuclear, and renewable energy since 1980.

All figures refer to the British thermal unit (BTU), equivalent to the heat required to heat one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit.

Editor’s note: Click on any graphic to see a full-width version that is higher resolution

1. Fossil Fuels

Biggest Producers of Fossil Fuel since 1980

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While the U.S. is a dominant player in both oil and natural gas production, China holds the top spot as the world’s largest fossil fuel producer, largely because of its significant production and consumption of coal.

Over the last decade, China has used more coal than the rest of the world, combined.

However, it’s worth noting that the country’s fossil fuel consumption and production have dipped in recent years, ever since the government launched a five-year plan back in 2014 to help reduce carbon emissions.

2. Nuclear Power

Biggest Producers of Nuclear Energy since 1980

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The U.S. is the world’s largest producer of nuclear power by far, generating about double the amount of nuclear energy as France, the second-largest producer.

While nuclear power provides a carbon-free alternative to fossil fuels, the nuclear disaster in Fukushima caused many countries to move away from the energy source, which is why global use has dipped in recent years.

Despite the fact that many countries have recently pivoted away from nuclear energy, it still powers about 10% of the world’s electricity. It’s also possible that nuclear energy will play an expanded role in the energy mix going forward, since decarbonization has emerged as a top priority for nations around the world.

3. Renewable Energy

Biggest Producers of Renewable Energy

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Renewable energy sources (including wind, hydro, and solar) account for about 23% of electricity production worldwide. China leads the front on renewable production, while the U.S. comes in second place.

While renewable energy production has ramped up in recent years, more countries will need to ramp up their renewable energy production in order to reach net-zero targets by 2050.

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Energy

What is the Cost of Europe’s Energy Crisis?

As European gas prices soar, countries are introducing policies to try and curb the energy crisis.

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What is the Cost of Europe’s Energy Crisis?

This was originally posted on Elements. Sign up to the free mailing list to get beautiful visualizations on natural resource megatrends in your email every week.

Europe is scrambling to cut its reliance on Russian fossil fuels.

As European gas prices soar eight times their 10-year average, countries are introducing policies to curb the impact of rising prices on households and businesses. These include everything from the cost of living subsidies to wholesale price regulation. Overall, funding for such initiatives has reached $276 billion as of August.

With the continent thrown into uncertainty, the above chart shows allocated funding by country in response to the energy crisis.

The Energy Crisis, In Numbers

Using data from Bruegel, the below table reflects spending on national policies, regulation, and subsidies in response to the energy crisis for select European countries between September 2021 and July 2022. All figures in U.S. dollars.

CountryAllocated Funding Percentage of GDPHousehold Energy Spending,
Average Percentage
🇩🇪 Germany$60.2B1.7%9.9%
🇮🇹 Italy$49.5B2.8%10.3%
🇫🇷 France$44.7B1.8%8.5%
🇬🇧 U.K.$37.9B1.4%11.3%
🇪🇸 Spain$27.3B2.3%8.9%
🇦🇹 Austria$9.1B2.3%8.9%
🇵🇱 Poland$7.6B1.3%12.9%
🇬🇷 Greece$6.8B3.7%9.9%
🇳🇱 Netherlands$6.2B0.7%8.6%
🇨🇿 Czech Republic$5.9B2.5%16.1%
🇧🇪 Belgium$4.1B0.8%8.2%
🇷🇴 Romania$3.8B1.6%12.5%
🇱🇹 Lithuania$2.0B3.6%10.0%
🇸🇪 Sweden$1.9B0.4%9.2%
🇫🇮 Finland$1.2B0.5%6.1%
🇸🇰 Slovakia$1.0B1.0%14.0%
🇮🇪 Ireland$1.0B0.2%9.2%
🇧🇬 Bulgaria$0.8B1.2%11.2%
🇱🇺 Luxembourg$0.8B1.1%n/a
🇭🇷 Croatia$0.6B1.1%14.3%
🇱🇻 Lativia$0.5B1.4%11.6%
🇩🇰 Denmark$0.5B0.1%8.2%
🇸🇮 Slovenia$0.3B0.5%10.4%
🇲🇹 Malta$0.2B1.4%n/a
🇪🇪 Estonia$0.2B0.8%10.9%
🇨🇾 Cyprus$0.1B0.7%n/a

Source: Bruegel, IMF. Euro and pound sterling exchange rates to U.S. dollar as of August 25, 2022.

Germany is spending over $60 billion to combat rising energy prices. Key measures include a $300 one-off energy allowance for workers, in addition to $147 million in funding for low-income families. Still, energy costs are forecasted to increase by an additional $500 this year for households.

In Italy, workers and pensioners will receive a $200 cost of living bonus. Additional measures, such as tax credits for industries with high energy usage were introduced, including a $800 million fund for the automotive sector.

With energy bills predicted to increase three-fold over the winter, households in the U.K. will receive a $477 subsidy in the winter to help cover electricity costs.

Meanwhile, many Eastern European countries—whose households spend a higher percentage of their income on energy costs— are spending more on the energy crisis as a percentage of GDP. Greece is spending the highest, at 3.7% of GDP.

Utility Bailouts

Energy crisis spending is also extending to massive utility bailouts.

Uniper, a German utility firm, received $15 billion in support, with the government acquiring a 30% stake in the company. It is one of the largest bailouts in the country’s history. Since the initial bailout, Uniper has requested an additional $4 billion in funding.

Not only that, Wien Energie, Austria’s largest energy company, received a €2 billion line of credit as electricity prices have skyrocketed.

Deepening Crisis

Is this the tip of the iceberg? To offset the impact of high gas prices, European ministers are discussing even more tools throughout September in response to a threatening energy crisis.

To reign in the impact of high gas prices on the price of power, European leaders are considering a price ceiling on Russian gas imports and temporary price caps on gas used for generating electricity, among others.

Price caps on renewables and nuclear were also suggested.

Given the depth of the situation, the chief executive of Shell said that the energy crisis in Europe would extend beyond this winter, if not for several years.

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