Above: Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
What is the lightest metal known in nature? Lithium. It’s what electric cars, cellphones, and your laptop computer, have in common. All three depend upon batteries made with lithium, weighing about five grams in the average laptop, and maybe half a gram in a cellphone. New research, however, shows that this brilliant metal, which keeps your devices charged and conveniently wireless, can also affect your brain. Indeed, you might have wondered if Lithium, a generic name for a drug used to treat manic depression has anything at all do with its metallic namesake. Well, yeah! Batteries using lithium have more than doubled the capacity of traditional nickel cadmium batteries, creating a “lithium boom” in several places around the world and in the stock market, just as it has become what the famous scientist Dr. Stephen Hawking calls a “ubiquitous technology.” So ubiquitous, in fact, that cellphone sales were up 57 percent over 2012 in China and are about to double in India.
Unfortunately, there’s a slippery slope involved in this technological leap. First of all, Lithium is difficult to both locate and excavate. Of course, trace amounts may be found in compounds everywhere, including in the bodies of mammals, but only in extremely minimal quantities. Multinational mining concerns locate it under the beds of dried-out lakes with a high saline content, formed tens of thousands of years ago when volcanoes in humid climates leaked groundwater.
Where on earth are these topographical freaks? The world’s highest amount of known reserves of lithium is the Andes of Bolivia. There are also smaller known reserves in Chile, China and the U.S. Indeed, someone in the Pentagon stirred up a hornet’s nest of controversy when a memo was leaked by one of Obama’s eggheads saying that war-ravaged Afghanistan just happens to be a potential “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” according to a Washington Post report at the time. Erstwhile enemy of capitalism and puppet dictator of Bolivia, President Evo Morales, financially dependent on charity doled out by Socialist Venezuela and Iran, insisted that he wanted the nation to mine its own lithium and discouraged foreign investors. Still, it’s uncertain if Bolivia can independently build the necessary extraction plants to handle the expected high demand, because Morales refused to even allow his benefactors from Iran to send their engineers in for fear of exploitation. Consequently, considering the endless chaos in Afghanistan, the Western Lithium Corporation is throwing all its research money into mining the dried salt beds of the Kings Valley region of Nevada, which in the long run could eventually yield around 11 million tons.
Meanwhile a crisis looms. A looming shortage could affect the price of laptop computers massively, not to mention the slowdown it is already setting in motion in the production of both all-electric and hybrid-electric cars that will devastate a number of new Detroit initiatives which are key factors in President Obama’s plans to reduce the U.S.’s dependence on oil. Indeed, Mitsubishi of Japan recently predicted a disastrous worldwide supply disappearance by 2015. Should new reserves not be located, according to The Wall Street Journal, researchers will be forced to return to experimenting with the more traditional nickel-cadmium batteries we are all familiar with. As such, this technology will not allow the storage of as much energy or be able to drive such long distances as are thus far only possible via use of lithium batteries This will be a major impediment to the continued success of electric cars.
Still, other scientists feel that with patience and time, new advances in nanotechnology may still allow more lithium than ever to be stored inside hybrid car batteries, as much as 10 times the previous levels. This would initially put even more pressure on global supplies, but, eventually, allow a minimal amount of energy to go much, much further. Meanwhile, those who suffer mental issues that demand medicinal Lithium ought to consult with their physicians in advance, according to Web M.D, in order to experiment with alternatives.