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Global Lithium Availability – A Constraint for Electric Vehicles?

There is disagreement on whether the supply of lithium is
adequate to support a future global fleet of electric vehicles.
We report a comprehensive analysis of the global lithium resources
and compare it to an assessment of global lithium demand
from 2010 to 2100 that assumes rapid and widespread
adoption of electric vehicles.

Recent estimates of global lithium resources have reached
very different conclusions.We compiled data on 103 deposits
containing lithium, with an emphasis on the 32 deposits that
have a lithium resource of more than 100,000 tonnes each.
For each deposit, data were compiled on its location, geologic
type, dimensions, and content of lithium as well as current
status of production where appropriate. Lithium demand
was estimated under the assumption of two different growth
scenarios for electric vehicles and other current battery and
nonbattery applications.

The global lithium resource is estimated to be about 39 Mt
(million tonnes), whereas the highest demand scenario does
not exceed 20 Mt for the period 2010 to 2100.We conclude
that even with a rapid and widespread adoption of electric
vehicles powered by lithium-ion batteries, lithium resources
are sufficient to support demand until at least the end of this
century. Journal of Industrial Ecology 1
Recognition of the adverse impacts of climate
change and the importance of mitigating carbon
dioxide (CO2) emissions has led to interest in
vehicle electrification. Most major automobile
companies are pursuing the development of electrified
vehicles using lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries.
Lithium is the lightest solid element, the first
member of the alkali metal group, and an excellent
conductor of electricity and heat. Compared
to nickel metal hydride batteries, the type of battery
currently powering most hybrid electric vehicles
(HEVs), Li-ion batteries are lighter, less
bulky, and more energy efficient. In addition, for
production volumes greater than 300,000 units
per year, Li-ion batteries are projected to be less
expensive (Snyder et al. 2009).

Debate persists about whether the supply of
lithium is adequate to meet lithium demand, particularly
for Li-ion batteries that will power the
next generation of automobiles. Tahil (2007) has
claimed that there is insufficient economically
recoverable lithium to support a large-scale electric
vehicle fleet, whereas Evans (1978, 2008a,
2008b), Clarke and Harben (2009), and Yaksic
and Tilton (2009) write that resources are adequate,
although these reviews differ in their estimates
of lithium resources.

This article attempts to resolve this controversy
by reviewing information on important
lithium deposits to estimate the global lithium
resource and comparing this information to two
scenarios for lithium demand between 2010 and

Lithium Supply
Previous Estimates of Lithium Reserves
and Resources
Recently published estimates of global lithium
resources and reserves (table 1) vary significantly,
and there is disagreement on how lithium resources
and reserves should be quantified. As an
example of the rapidly changing nature of these
estimates, in just 1 year, from 2009 to 2010,
the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), one of the
world’s most respected sources of information on
mineral deposits, increased its estimate of lithium
resources from 13.8 to 25.5Mt (1Mt = 1 million
tonnes)1 and more than doubled its estimate of
reserves, from 4.1 to 9.9Mt, “based on new information
from government and industry sources”
(USGS 2009a; 2010, 93). In early 2011 the
USGS further increased its estimates of lithium
resources and reserves to 33 Mt and 13 Mt, respectively
(USGS 2011). The USGS estimates
global reserves and resources for many mineral
commodities using data provided bymining companies,
geological studies by government agencies,
published research papers, presentations by
company representatives, and trade journal articles
(USGS 2010).

Global lithium production comes from deposits
in which the lithium has been concentrated
above background crustal abundance by
natural processes. The feasibility of recovering
lithium economically from any deposit depends
on the size of the deposit, its lithium content
(referred to as “grade” for ores and “concentration”
for brines), the content of other elements,
and the processes that are used to remove the
lithium-bearing material from the deposit and
extract lithium from it. For any specific deposit,
the degree to which these parameters are known
determines whether the deposit is classified as reserve
or resource. As new information becomes
available and as prices change, the classification
of a deposit as reserve or resource can change.
It is generally assumed that mining and processing
technologies will improve over time and that
prices will rise, allowing poorer deposits to be

Our study covers a period of 90 years, during
which time the estimates for lithium reserves and
resources will undoubtedly change. Despite the
considerable uncertainties in estimates covering
this long time period, it is necessary to take a long
view because of the large-scale, structural changes
required by a shift from hydrocarbon fuels to electric
power for cars. Although we have so far been
able to produce all of the minerals that society
needs from the earth, there are limits, and it
would be unwise to begin such a major transition
unless there were a favorable outlook for longterm
lithium supplies (as compared to estimated
demand). To simplify reporting, we refer to all
of our estimates as lithium resources. As defined
by the USGS, a resource is the “concentration
2 Journal of Industrial Ecology

Table 1 World total lithium resource and reserve estimates
Li Resources Reference Li Reserves Reference
13.8 USGS (2009a) 4.1 USGS (2009a)
19.2 Tahil (2008) 4.6 Tahil (2008)
29.9 Evans (2008b) 29.4 Yaksic and Tilton (2009)
33 USGS (2011) 13 USGS (2011)
34.5 Evans (2010) 39.4 Clarke and Harben (2009)
64.0 Yaksic and Tilton (2009)
Note: Values are in million tonnes (Mt) of lithium (Li).
of naturally occurring solid, liquid, or gaseous material
in or on the Earth’s crust in such form and
amount that economic extraction of a commodity
from the concentration is currently or potentially
feasible” (USGS 2009b, 191). Reserve is defined
by USGS as “That part of the reserve base that
could be economically extracted or produced at
the time of determination. (Reserve Base.—That
part of an identified resource that meets specified
minimum physical and chemical criteria related
to current mining and production practices, including
those for grade, quality, thickness, and
depth)” (USGS 2009b, 191–2). Although reserve
estimates have been made for some deposits,
they are not available for all deposits, and the long
time interval for this study must emphasize lesser
known deposits for which resource estimates are
more appropriate.

Lithium Deposits
Lithium deposits are of three main types:
brines and related evaporites, pegmatites, and
sedimentary rocks. According to our analysis (see
the Deposit-by-Deposit Estimates section), brines
containing lithium make up 66% of the world’s
lithium resource, pegmatites make up 26%, and
sedimentary rocks make up 8%.

Brines are saline waters with high contents of
dissolved salts. They are found naturally in the
pores of rocks where fresh (lake) or salt (ocean)
water has undergone extreme evaporation. The
most common such environment for lithiumbearing
brines are lacustrine (lake) playas (salt
flats), which consist of sand-size grains of rocks
and minerals with brine filling the pores between
the grains. In some such playas, evaporation
has deposited layers consisting almost entirely of
salts, usually halite (NaCl). Lithium, which is a
minor but locally important constituent of these
brines, is thought to have been derived from erosion
of rocks surrounding the playas and from hot
springs that feed water into the playas (Ide and
Kunasz 1989; Kesler 1994). The brine is extracted
from wells that penetrate lithium-bearing zones
of sediment (aquifers) and pumped into shallow
evaporation ponds, where it is evaporated under
controlled conditions that eliminate deleterious
elements and compounds, principally magnesium
and sulfate.

For the most part, brine salt flats containing
the highest concentrations of lithium are
in Chile, Argentina, China, and Tibet. Brines
in these deposits also contain large amounts of
other useful elements, including potassium and
boron, which offset some of the costs of pumping
and processing brines. Potassium is mainly
used as a fertilizer (potash) and, when produced
from brines, usually takes the form of potassium

The average concentration of lithium in major
brine resources varies from about 0.14% at
the Salar de Atacama, in northern Chile, to
0.02% at Silver Peak, Nevada (figure 1). In
addition to having the highest average concentration
of lithium in its brine, the 3,000-
square-kilometers (km2) Salar de Atacama is
also the largest producing deposit.2 The Salar
de Atacama is the world’s largest producer of
lithium carbonate (Li2CO3), with 40,000 and
25,000 tonnes of Li2CO3 in 2008 from operations
owned by Sociedad Quimica y Minera
(SQM) and Rockwood Holdings Inc., respectively
(Evans 2008b; Tahil 2008). This amounts
Gruber et al., Global Lithium Availability and Electric Vehicles 3

Figure 1 Average lithium (Li) concentrations of brines.
to over 12,000 tonnes of lithium metal production,
more than half of the world’s total production
of 22,800 (O’Keefe 2009) to 25,400 tonnes
of lithium in 2008 (USGS 2010). We have estimated
that Atacama has an in-situ (in the
ground, before extraction and processing losses)
lithium resource of at least 6.3 Mt. Zabuye, in
China, is the next largest producing brine deposit.
It has an area of 243 km2, an average lithium
concentration of about 0.07%, an estimated
lithium resource of 1.53 Mt, and a production
capacity of 7,500 tonnes of Li2CO3 in 2004
(ZBY 2004). Silver Peak, in Nevada, has the
lowest concentration of lithium of any currently
producing brine deposit, around 0.02% after 40
years of operation (Kennedy 1990; Clarke and
Harben 2009; Yaksic and Tilton 2009). It has
an estimated lithium resource of 0.3 Mt (Tahil

Among deposits that have not yet gone into
production, Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni is of greatest
interest. According to Comibol (2010), two
drill holes indicate the presence of 11 layers
of lithium-bearing brine and salt with high
porosity, totaling 170 meters in thickness. Although
Uyuni brines have a relatively low average
lithium concentration, about 0.05%, the
large volume of brine indicates a possible total
resource of 10.2 Mt of lithium, or 27% of the
world’s in-situ lithium resource. Whether this
lithium can be produced economically will remain
uncertain until further drilling is conducted
to define the lithium reserve and it is proven that
processing can deal with the high level of magnesium
in the brine.

Brines are also found in deep oil reservoirs,
and some of these are enriched in lithium. Best
known of these are the brines in the Smackover
Formation in the Gulf Coast region of the
United States. These brines are estimated to contain
0.75 Mt of lithium resource at an average
lithium concentration of about 0.015%, which is
the lowest concentration that we have included
in our lithium resource compilation (and the second
lowest concentration shown in figure 1). The
Smackover brines are at depths of several thousand
feet, which increases cost because of the
need to pump the brine to the surface for processing
(unless it is moved to the surface during oil
production; Collins 1976).

Pegmatite deposits are coarse-grained intrusive
igneous rocks that formed from the crystallization
of magma at depth in the crust.
Pegmatites can contain recoverable amounts
of lithium, tin, tantalum, niobium, beryllium,
and other elements. Lithium in pegmatites
is usually present in the mineral spodumene
(LiAlSi2O6), although it can also
be present in petalite (LiAlSi4O10), lepidolite
[(KLi2Al(Al,Si)3O10(F,OH)2], amblygonite
[(Li,Na)AlPO4(F,OH)], and eucryptite

To produce lithium carbonate from most
pegmatites, a concentrate containing the
4 Journal of Industrial Ecology

Figure 2 Average lithium (Li) concentrations of pegmatites.
lithium-bearingmineral is obtained from the pegmatite
ore, usually by flotation. The mineral concentrate
is then pulverized and leached in hot solutions
to release the lithium into solution, from
which it is usually precipitated as lithium carbonate
(Tahil 2008). The grinding, heating, and
dissolution steps in this process are expensive and
are the reason that many pegmatites are at a disadvantage
compared to brines, which can be treated
to release lithium much more easily. The concentration
of lithium in pegmatites is considerably
higher than in brines, however, and, where high
enough, it offsets the additional costs. Pavlovic
(1990) estimated the cost of lithium carbonate
production from brine at USD $1.10 to $1.65
per kilogram (kg) Li2CO3 at Atacama and Silver
Peak, Nevada,3 respectively, compared to $2.43
per kg Li2CO3 for production from spodumene
at Bessemer City, North Carolina. In addition to
lithium, some pegmatite operations produce tin
and tantalum as well as feldspar and mica, which
can help offset processing costs.
Lithium is currently being extracted from at
least 13 pegmatite deposits (Clarke and Harben
2009), and more deposits are under development.
The largest producing spodumene pegmatite operation,
in Greenbushes, Australia, has an estimated
resource of 560,000 tonnes of lithium in
ore, with an average concentration of about 1.6%
lithium (USGS 2007). The producing pegmatite
deposit with the lowest lithium concentration of
0.59% lithium (Yaksic and Tilton 2009) is Jiajika,
in China, which by our estimation has a
resource of 204,000 tonnes of lithium in ore.
In the United States, Russia, and Australia,
some pegmatite operations with low lithium
concentrations ceased operations when South
American brine deposits came on line in the
1980s and 1990s. For example, Kings Mountain
and Cherryville spodumene pegmatite deposits
in North Carolina, with average grades of 0.69%
and 0.65% lithium, respectively, closed in 1991
(Garrett 2004) despite the fact that the region
has an estimated resource of more than 5 Mt of
lithium (Kesler 1978). The average concentrations
of major pegmatite resources are presented
in figure 2.

Sedimentary Rocks
Lithium is also found in several sedimentary
rocks, including clay and lacustrine evaporites.
In the clay deposits, lithium is a
constituent of clay minerals, such as smectite,
from which it must be separated by processing.
Hectorite, [(Mg,Li)3Si4O10(OH)2], is a type of
smectite that is rich in magnesium and lithium.
The best known hectorite deposit, containing
0.7% lithium, is in Hector, California, and
the lithium-bearing hectorite is used for cosmetic
and other applications (Garrett 2004).
Another, more recently studied hectorite deposit
is Kings Valley, Nevada; it contains an
estimated 48.1 Mt of “indicated” hectorite resources
grading 0.27% lithium and 42.3 Mt of
Gruber et al., Global Lithium Availability and Electric Vehicles 5

“inferred” resources grading 0.27% lithium
(WLC 2010b). The Jadar Valley, in Serbia,
contains lacustrine evaporite deposits containing
jadarite [LiNaB3SiO7(OH)], a newly recognized
mineral that contains lithium and boron
(Obradovic et al. 1997; Stanley et al. 2007). An
inferred resource of 114.6 Mt of jadarite-bearing
rock containing 1.8% lithium oxide (Li2O) has
been reported for this deposit (Rio Tinto, 2010).
The feasibility of economically extracting the
lithium from these deposits is not known at this

Costs and Production
Prices for potash, the most common byproduct
from brines, help lower the costs for
production of lithium brine. According to the
USGS, the average price for potash increased
from $200 per tonne in 2004 to a record $717 per
tonne in 2008, mainly due to increased demand
for fertilizers (Jasinski 2008, 2009). Demand has
dropped since 2008, due to the global economic
recession, and potash companies reduced production
by 28.5% from 2008 to 2009, which helped
keep the price for potash above $700 per tonne
through 2009 (Jasinski 2010).
The price of lithium carbonate (in 2008 dollars)
steadily declined from around $6.50 per
pound4 in 1954 to about $1.50 per pound in 1998,
as new South American production began at Atacama
in 1984 andHombreMuerto, Argentina, in
1997. Beginning in 2003, the price of lithium carbonate
(in 2008 dollars) began to increase, reaching
around $2.80 per pound, or $6,173 per tonne,
in 2008 (Yaksic and Tilton 2009). In 2009, however,
the price of lithium carbonate decreased by
25%, likely due to decreasing demand and possibly
due to SQM’s September announcement
that it would reduce the price of lithium by 20%
(Johnson 2009).

Lithium Resource Estimates
and Comparison to Other
We compiled data on 103 deposits containing
lithium, with an emphasis on the 32 deposits
containing more than 100,000 tonnes of lithium
resources. In estimating the in-situ lithium resources
for the top 32 deposits, we obtained data
from primary and secondary sources that were
publically available.Weestimated in-situ lithium
resources from brine deposits using the relation
Lithium Resource = A × T × P × D × C
where A = area of aquifer, T = thickness of
aquifer, P = porosity of aquifer, D = density of
brine, and C = concentration of Li in brine. In
most deposits, it was necessary to combine different
aquifers into a single thickness estimate.
We estimated lithium resources from rock and
mineral deposits using the relation
Lithium Resource = T × C
Where T = tonnes of ore and C = concentration
of Li in ore.

Deposits containing less than 100,000 tonnes
of Li that are currently producing were also included
in the estimate. These deposits, with a
total lithium resource of 147,000 tonnes, are described
in Supporting Information on the Journal’s
Web site. The Dead Sea, Great Salt Lake,
and Searles Lake brines were not included in the
total, because the concentrations of lithium in
their brines are lower than even the poorest playa

Table 2 presents the in-situ lithium resource
estimate. (Descriptions of these deposits are
available in the Supporting Information on the
Our review suggests that the total in-situ
lithium resource in the world is 38.68 Mt. If we
apply conservative 50% recovery rates for brines,
pegmatites, and sedimentary rocks, which take
into account extraction and processing losses as
discussed further below, the minimum recoverable
lithium resource is 19.34 Mt.
Recovery rates are difficult to estimate and
vary by deposit.A1976 National Research Council
report on lithium and, more recently, Evans
(Vaccaro 2010) estimated recovery rates of 75%
for open-pit and 50% for underground pegmatite
deposits. Because it is unknown how current and
future pegmatite deposits will be mined, we chose
the more conservative 50% recovery rate for
all lithium-bearing rock deposits, including pegmatites
and sedimentary rocks. Evans (Vaccaro
2010) also estimated brine operation recoveries
at 50%, which we used for this study. This is
6 Journal of Industrial Ecology

Table 2 World in-situ lithium resource
Average concentration In-situ resource
Deposit Country Type (% Li) (Mt Li)
Uyuni Bolivia Brine 0.0532 10.2
Atacamaa Chile Brine 0.14 6.3
Kings Mountain Belt United States Pegmatite 0.68 5.9
Qaidama China Brine 0.03 2.02
Kings Valley United States Sedimentary rock 0.27 2.0
Zabuyea China Brine 0.068 1.53
Manono/Kitotolo Congo Pegmatite 0.58 1.145
Rincon Argentina Brine 0.033 1.118
Brawley United States Brine – 1.0
Jadar Valley Serbia Sedimentary rock 0.0087 0.99
Hombre Muertoa Argentina Brine 0.052 0.8
Smackover United States Brine 0.0146 0.75
Gajika China Pegmatite – 0.591
Greenbushesa Australia Pegmatite 1.59 0.56
Beaverhill Canada Brine – 0.515
Yichuna China Pegmatite – 0.325
Salton Sea United States Brine 0.02 0.316
Silver Peaka United States Brine 0.02 0.3
Kolmorzerskoe Russia Pegmatite – 0.288
Maerkinga China Pegmatite – 0.225
Maricunga Chile Brine 0.092 0.22
Jiajikaa China Pegmatite 0.59 0.204
Daoxian China Pegmatite – 0.182
Dangxiongcuoa China Brine 0.04 0.181
Olaroz Argentina Brine 0.07 0.156
Other (producing)a 8 deposits in Pegmatite – 0.147
Brazil, Canada,
China, Portugal
Goltsovoe Russia Pegmatite – 0.139
Polmostundrovskoe Russia Pegmatite – 0.139
Ulug-Tanzek Russia Pegmatite – 0.139
Urikskoe Russia Pegmatite – 0.139
Koralpe Austria Pegmatite – 0.1
Mibra Brazil Pegmatite – 0.1
Bikitaa Zimbabwe Pegmatite 1.4 0.0567b
Dead Sea Israel Brine 0.001 –
Great Salt Lake United States Brine 0.004 –
Searles Lake United States Brine 0.005 –
Total 38.68
Note: Li = lithium; Mt = million tonnes.
aProducing. bWe used the lowest estimate in the literature, although some estimates for Bikita were over 100,000 tonnes
consistent with the recovery rates that Yaksic
and Tilton (2009) and Tahil (2008) used.
The top ten lithium deposits make up 83%
of the world’s total lithium resource and include
six brine, two pegmatite, and two sedimentary
rock deposits. The top three deposits, Uyuni,
Atacama, and the Kings Mountain Belt, make
up 57% of the world’s total resource of lithium.
South America accounts for 49% of the world’s
lithium resource, the United States accounts for
Gruber et al., Global Lithium Availability and Electric Vehicles 7

26%, and China accounts for 14%. Production
of lithium is occurring at 19 deposits (eight of
which are below 100,000 tonnes lithium), whose
total in-situ resource is 12.6 Mt, or 33% of the
world’s total. Of the ten largest deposits, only
Atacama, Qaidam Basin, and Zabuye are currently
producing lithium. In the future, the deposits
with higher grades are likely to be mined
before lower grade deposits. For brine deposits,
Maricunga, Olaroz, and Uyuni are good candidates.
For pegmatite deposits, Kings Mountain
Belt may be next to come back on line, although
other pegmatite deposits in Africa are also candidates.
Our in-situ resource estimate of 39 Mt of
lithium falls between Evans’s (2010) and Yaksic
and Tilton’s (2009) estimates of 34.5 and
64.0 Mt, respectively. Differences in estimates
of lithium resources in these studies are partly
attributable to different numbers of deposits included
in each estimate. Tahil (2008), the USGS
(2009a, 2010), and Evans (2008b, 2010) included
fewer deposits. We evaluated 103 deposits and
included 32 of the largest deposits and eight currently
producing, smaller deposits in our study.
Yaksic andTilton (2009) included the same number
of deposits in their study, although the specific
deposits differed slightly.
Thewide range of estimates is also attributable
to differences in how resources and reserves were
estimated for specific deposits. The quality of information
on the volume of lithium-bearing rock
and its lithium content varied from deposit to
deposit. Only one of the 40 deposits we studied
reported information that was compliant
with National Instrument 43-101 (NI 43-
302amendedjan24-03.pdf), an internationally
recognized standard for the quantification of
mineral reserves and resources. This deposit,
DXC (Dangxiongcuo), contains 181,000 tonnes
of lithium and was NI 43-101 compliant (Tribe
2006). A portion of Western Lithium’s claim
at Kings Valley contains an estimate that is
compliant; it amounts to 233,000 tonnes out
of an estimated 2.0 Mt of lithium resource at a
cutoff grade of 0.20% lithium (WLC 2010a).
In a recent article, Evans (2010) points out
that few brine deposits can be compliant with
NI 43-101 currently, because existing codes for
mineral resource and reserve reporting apply
to solid-phase minerals rather than brines,
which can change location during production.
Assuming the standard is updated to reflect the
fluidity of brines, we expect it to be applied
more widely in the future, as companies seek to
attract the investment necessary to develop their
deposits for mining.

The lowest lithium resource estimate, 19.2Mt
by Tahil (2008), is lower than others primarily
because it included fewer deposits and because
Tahil used more conservative estimates for the
size of deposits. For many large deposits, including
Uyuni and Atacama, Tahil used the most
conservative figures for surface area, porosity, and
concentration. He used a 20 km2 area of the Atacama
deposit in his estimate but did not indicate
how he estimated the resource for the much
larger 1,424 km2 nucleus. Also, Tahil did not include
pegmatite or sedimentary rock deposits in
his estimate. In doing so, he neglected as much
as one-third of the world’s lithium resource.
While twelve countries are mentioned, it is
unclear how many countries in total the USGS
includedwhen compiling its most recent estimate
of lithium resources (USGS 2011); we used data
from deposits in 15 countries. The USGS does
not state specifically how its lithium estimates
were obtained, nor does it provide a comprehensive
list of all deposits included. The main difference
between our analysis and that of the USGS
is probably related to a larger estimate on our part
for deposits in the United States and China.
In 2010, Evans (Vaccaro 2010) increased his
estimate of lithium resources from 29.9 to 34.5
Mt. Evans (2008b) also increased the estimate
of the Uyuni deposit from 5.5 Mt of lithium reserves,
as estimated by Ballivian and Risacher
(1981), to 8.9 Mt, as estimated by Ballivian in
1989. Risacher and Fritz (1991) later revised the
estimate to 9.0 Mt, on the basis of more detailed
survey data and a higher lithium concentration,
which is closer to our estimate of 10.2 Mt.
The highest resource estimate, 64.0 Mt of
lithium, by Yaksic and Tilton (2009), was based
on 40 deposits. Yaksic and Tilton’s estimate included
35.7 Mt for the Atacama brine deposit
but did not provide data to support this claim. If
Yaksic and Tilton used the more widely quoted
value of 7.0 Mt for Atacama, their global estimate
8 Journal of Industrial Ecology

Figure 3 Global lithium consumption by category, 2006–2008, as a percent of total. Cond. = conditioning.
would be similar to our estimate and others in the
literature. Unlike Yaksic and Tilton, we did not
include theDead Sea or the Great Salt Lake as resources.
Clarke and Harben (2009) reported the
highest reserve estimate (which they call “broadbased
reserves”), including 61 deposits, but did
not provide deposit-specific resource estimates.
Lithium Markets and Demand
The USGS and major lithium producers
report lithium use by segment starting in
2006. Data for the last 3 years are shown in
figure 3. Two categories (battery and others) show
growth. The “other” category includes special alloy
production, chemical processing, continuous
casting, and pharmaceuticals. The “battery” category
includes portable electronics and, more recently,
vehicles. Given the scale of the application,
if use in vehicles increases, it is likely
that the battery category will outpace all others.
These categories were studied and their expected
demand was projected through 2100.
Nonbattery Demand Forecast
Nonbattery lithium demand includes uses in
frits and glass, lubricants, and air conditioning.
We note that lithium could be substituted by
other materials in these applications. In frits and
glass, it could be substituted by sodic and potassic
fluxes; in lubricants, by aluminum and calcium
soaps; and lithium alloys could be substituted
by engineered resins that use boron, glass, and
polymer fibers (USGS 2010).

In frits and glass, lithium carbonate is added to
ceramics, enamels, and glass to reduce their melting
point, reduce viscosity, and increase surface
tension, which makes lithium glasses suitable for
ovenware (Ullmann 2000). Lithium hydroxide
is used in the production of greases. The addition
of lithium stearates maintains the viscosity
of greases at high temperatures and makes them
insoluble in water. Both of these properties are
important for lubricants in vehicles, aircrafts, and
heavy machinery (Ullmann 2000).
Lithium bromide, lithium chromate, and
lithium chloride are used in air conditioners
operating on the absorption principle.
Lithium hydroxide is also used to absorb carbon
dioxide in submarines and spacecrafts
(Ullmann 2000).

Other uses of lithium include production of
organic compounds and alloys (Ullmann 2000).
Lithium is used as a coolant and shielding material
in nuclear reactors and for the production
of tritium. Lithium metal is used in alloys with
other metals; for example, it changes the hardness
of aluminum and lead and the ductility of
magnesium (Ullmann 2000).

Inorganic lithium compounds are employed
in several applications. Lithium acetates are used
in pharmaceuticals and in the production of
polyesters. Lithium carbonate is added to cement
to accelerate setting time and to molten
salts used for electrolytic aluminum production.
Gruber et al., Global Lithium Availability and Electric Vehicles 9
High-purity lithium carbonate is used in pharmaceuticals
to treat manic-depressive conditions
(Ullmann 2000).

We estimated the accumulated lithium demand
for the period 2010–2100, for applications
other than batteries (i.e., lubricating grease, frits
and glass, air conditioning, and other nonbattery
uses), using growth estimates from Yaksic and
Tilton (2009) and current demand levels; the result
was 3.16 million tonnes of lithium demand.
Given the possibilities of substitution by other
materials, we consider this value to be the upper
limit for the likely lithium demand in these
Portable Electronics Battery Demand
Lithium metal and compounds are used as anode,
cathode, and electrolyte material in batteries
(Frost & Sullivan 2008a). Lithium-based batteries
are lighter, do not have a memory effect, and
have a self-discharge rate lower than other types
of batteries (Winter and Brodd 2004).
Global shipment data are available for primary
(i.e., nonrechargeable) batteries between
1994 and 2008 and for secondary (i.e., rechargeable)
lithium batteries between 2003 and 2007.
A linear regression analysis revealed that battery
shipments were strongly correlated with global
gross domestic product (GDP; correlation coefficients
of 95% for primary batteries and 99%
for secondary batteries.) We estimated global demand
for batteries for the period 2010–2100 on
the basis of the regression result and the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
2010–2100 growth scenarios for future global

The IPCC identifies four world growth scenarios
(A1, A2, B1, and B2) with annual GDP
in the ranges 2.5% to 3.0%, 2.0% to 2.3%, 2.5%
to 2.6%, and 2.0% to 2.3%, respectively (IPCC
2000). On the basis of these values, two growth
scenarios were explored: 2% and 3%.
Once we calculated the annual number of
battery shipments, we determined the volume
of lithium required, assuming that all batteries
are disposed of after 1 year of useful life. Global
recycling rates were not available; however, in
theUnited Kingdom and Canada, disposable and
rechargeable battery recycling rates are estimated
to be near 5% (RBRC 2008; Electropaedia 2009).
We used this value to represent global recycling
of portable batteries.

Lithium recovery from recycling was assumed
to be 90%, a rate that is currently being achieved
(Tedjar 2009). Although recovery is expected
to increase as recycling technologies improve,
we kept it constant throughout the evaluation

Finally, we calculated the mass of lithium
used per battery, assuming that all battery-related
lithium use in 2008 was for primary and secondary
portable batteries. SQM estimated that, in 2008,
global lithium consumption was approximately
17,400 tonnes, 27% of which was used in batteries
(SQM 2008). For the same year, Frost &
Sullivan (2008b) reported that the world total
count of primary and secondary lithium batteries
was 4,386 million units. Hence, the average mass
is 1.07 tonnes of lithium permillion batteries.We
assumed that this ratio remained constant for the
period 2010–2100. Table 3 shows our estimate
of the accumulated lithium demand for portable
batteries, using two GDP growth scenarios (2%
and 3%).

Table 3 Accumulated lithium demand for portable electronics, 2010–2100
Type of lithium use Primary battery Secondary battery
2% GDP 3% GDP 2% GDP 3% GDP
Batteries (million units) 856,281 1,741,126 868,687 1,780,142
Lithium used (million metric tons) 0.92 1.87 0.93 1.91
Lithium recycled (million metric tons) 0.04 0.08 0.04 0.09
Lithium mined (million metric tons) 0.88 1.78 0.89 1.82
Note: GDP = gross domestic product.
10 Journal of Industrial Ecology

Vehicle Battery Demand Forecast
As global penetration of electric vehicles (i.e.,
hybrid electric vehicles [HEVs], plug-in hybrid
electric vehicles [PHEVs], and battery electric vehicles
[BEVs]) increases, so will the demand for
the batteries that power them. Currently, most
HEVs use nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries,
but a transition to Li-ion batteries has begun,
and researchers have predicted that Li-ion
batteries will be used in the next generation of
vehicles (Frost & Sullivan 2009). We note that
other vehicle technologies, such as fuel cells and
ultra-capacitor batteries, are being explored, and
these may compete with Li-ion batteries. Hence,
we view the demand values calculated below as
upper limits.

The lithium demand for vehicle batteries was
estimated as follows. First, we conducted a linear
regression analysis using light-duty global vehicle
production for the period 1995–2008 from
theWard’s 2009 Automotive Yearbook (Blinder
2009) and global GDP data; a 97% linear correlation
was found. Second, we estimated vehicle
manufacturing for 2010–2100 using two GDP
growth scenarios (2% and 3%). In the 3% GDP
growth scenario the annual production of lightduty
vehicles increases to approximately 630 million
units in 2100; this equates to the production
of 42 new vehicles per 1,000 persons per year
in 2100. This level of global vehicle production
and consumption is comparable in magnitude to
the current level in the United States and probably
is an upper limit for future global production.
Third, we used Credit Suisse’s projection
of electric vehicle penetration from 2010 to 2030
(Jobin et al. 2009). Beyond 2030 we assumed that
year-over-year electric vehicle growth remained
constant in the 2% GDP scenario and increased
0.5% every 10 years in the 3% GDP scenario.
The projected global annual light-duty vehicle
production is shown in figure 4. These growth
projections result in 100% electric vehicle (EV)
penetration in 2083 and 2087 for the 2% and
3% GDP scenarios, respectively. Fourth, battery
life, vehicle life, and battery recycling were accounted
for, and the accumulated lithium use for
the period 2010–2100 was estimated.
To calculate the number of batteries needed,
we assumed that all vehicle batteries have 10
years of useful life. The amount of lithium required
per battery was calculated according to
the electric range of each type of vehicle. Consistent
with estimates from a recent global energy
modeling study (Grahn et al. 2009), we assumed
that HEVs have 2 km of electric range;
PHEVs, 65 km; and BEVs, 200 km. Following
the recent estimate by Notter and colleagues

Figure 4 Global annual vehicle production (in million units) estimated for 2010–2100 for 2% and 3% gross
domestic product (GDP) scenarios: total vehicles for 3% scenario, dashed line; electric vehicles for 3%
scenario, dotted line; total vehicles for 2% scenario, dash-dot line; electric vehicles for 2% scenario,
dash-double dot line. “Electric vehicles” includes hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), plug-in hybrid electric
vehicles (PHEVs), and battery electric vehicles (BEVs).
Gruber et al., Global Lithium Availability and Electric Vehicles 11
Table 4 2010–2100 maximum expected lithium demand for electric vehicles batteries for 2% and 3% gross
domestic product (GDP) growth scenarios and recycling participation at 90%, 96%, and 100%
Lithium 90% 96% 100%
Growth demandand
scenario source HEV PHEV BEV Total HEV PHEV BEV Total HEV PHEV BEV Total
2% Demanded 0.22 3.59 11.64 15.45 0.22 3.59 11.64 15.45 0.22 3.59 11.64 15.45
Recycled 0.12 1.94 6.76 8.82 0.13 2.06 7.22 9.41 0.14 2.15 7.52 9.80
Mined 0.10 1.66 4.88 6.63 0.09 1.53 4.43 6.05 0.08 1.44 4.13 5.66
3% Demanded 0.35 6.14 18.89 25.40 0.35 6.14 18.89 25.40 0.35 6.14 18.89 25.40
Recycled 0.17 2.87 9.61 12.65 0.19 3.05 10.25 13.49 0.20 3.18 10.68 14.05
Mined 0.18 3.28 9.29 12.75 0.17 3.09 8.64 11.90 0.16 2.96 8.21 11.35
Note: Values are in million tonnes (Mt). A recovery efficiency of 90% during the recycling process was assumed. HEV =
hybrid electric vehicle; PHEV = plug-in hybrid electric vehicle; BEV = battery electric vehicle.
(2010), we assumed that electric vehicles consume
approximately 0.17 kilowatt-hours per
kilometer (kWh/km)5. We consider a ±20%
range around this value to give 0.14 to 0.20
kWh/km. Hence, to provide the needed range,
the batteries for HEVs, PHEVs, and BEVs
need to store 0.3 to 0.4, 9 to 13, and 28 to
40 kWh, respectively.

Recognizing the need to avoid deep discharge
and seeking to be conservative in our estimations,
we added a 100% buffer forHEVand a 50% buffer
for PHEV and BEV batteries to provide adequate
cycle life (Miller 2010). The resulting capacity
requirements for HEVs, PHEVs, and BEVs batteries
in our model are 0.6 to 0.8, 13 to 20, and
42 to 60 kWh, respectively. Li-ion batteries have
approximately 0.114 kg Li per kWh (average for
lithium-cobalt oxide [LiCoO2], lithium-nickel
oxide [LiNiO2], and lithium-manganese oxide
[LiMn2O4] cathode materials from Table 3.1 in
Gaines and Cuenca 2000), so the lithium content
of batteries in HEVs, PHEVs, and BEVs
would be 0.068 to 0.091, 1.48 to 2.28, and 5.13 to
7.70 kg.

To account for future improvements in vehicle
efficiency (e.g., weight reduction, aerodynamic
and rolling resistance improvements), we
adopted the assumption of Grahn and colleagues
(2009) that the vehicle energy demand will decrease
by a factor of 2 over the century (i.e.,
the energy efficiency increases at a compound
rate of 0.77% per year over the period 2010–
2100).Hence, by 2100, HEVs, PHEVs, and BEVs
would contain between 0.034 and 0.046, between
0.74 and 1.14, and between 2.57 and 3.85 kg of
lithium, respectively. Seeking to calculate maximum
expected lithium demand, we used the upper
bound of these ranges (i.e., 0.046, 1.14, and
3.85 kg) in our calculations.

Recycling of lithium from Li-ion batteries may
be a critical factor in balancing the supply of
lithium with future demand. To cover this factor,
we drew on estimates from several sources.
The U.S. EPA reports that “nearly 90% of all
lead-acid batteries are recycled” (EPA 2008).
The International Lead Management Center reports
that “recycling rates for used batteries is as
high as 96% in many countries” (Wilson 2009).
With regard to lead-acid batteries, the International
Lead Association states that “some countries
boast 100% recycling and most others share
the possibility of 100% recyclability” (ILA 2010).
We calculated total lithium demand and recycling
volumes for three recycling participation
rates (90%, 96%, and 100%), with 90% recovery
of lithium during the recycling process (Paulino
et al. 2008; Tedjar 2009).The results are shown in
table 4.

Total Demand Forecast
We calculated the upper limit for lithium demand
from 2010 to 2100 by aggregating the mass
needed to be mined to support the demand from
nonbattery, portable electronic batteries, and vehicle
batteries uses. In the case of vehicle use,
the upper limit was calculated from the 3% GDP
growth scenario, with vehicle battery recycling at
90% (and lithium recovery assumed to be 90%).
We expect the total lithium demand for this
12 Journal of Industrial Ecology

period to be 19.6 Mt (3.2 Mt from nonbattery
use, 3.6 Mt from portable battery use, and 12.8
Mt from vehicle battery use), and hence we quote
an upper limit of 20 Mt.

The lithium demand model shows that accumulated
demand for lithium from 2010 to 2100
could be between 12 and 20 Mt, for the 2% and
3% GDP scenarios, when recycling participation
is at its lowest (90%). The upper limit for lithium
demand is significantly lower than the estimated
39 Mt of in-situ lithium resource but slightly
higher than the estimated minimum 19 Mt of
recoverable lithium. Because some large deposits
will likely have higher recovery rates, the actual
recoverable lithium will likely be higher than 19
Mt. The biggest hurdles to a long-term lithium
supply will be establishing lithium production facilities
at the rate demanded by the automotive
industry, advancing the technology to remove
magnesium from lithium-bearing brines, and developing
the Uyuni deposit. Taking these obstacles
into consideration, we conclude that lithium
availability will not constrain the electrification
of the automobile during the present century.
The in-situ resource estimate of 39 Mt will
change as new information becomes available.
Although the same data were not available for
all deposits, the three largest deposits made up
most of the world’s resource and were estimated
on the basis of substantial data (see Case Studies
of Lithium Deposits in the Supporting Information
on the Web). Seven of the top ten deposits
are not in production, and two new types of deposits,
Kings Valley (hectorite) and Jadar Valley
(jadarite), have not been operated economically.
With demand for lithium batteries, we are entering
a new lithium exploration era; new brine,
spodumene, and other types of deposits will be
discovered. Some deposits might not currently be
economically exploitable, and others might produce
larger than expected amounts of lithium before
2100. Further exploration of current and potential
lithium deposits, especially if these studies
are NI 43-101 compliant, will help produce improved
estimates of the world’s lithium resources.
Growth ratios used to calculate lithium use
in frits, lubricants, air conditioning, and other
applications could be lower or higher than the
real growth rates observed in the future. Annual
global GDP growth for the period 2010–2100
could be less than 2% or more than 3%, thus affecting
our estimates for the number of portable
batteries and vehicle batteries manufactured.Our
demand for battery use would also be affected if
recycling participation and recovery factors were
different than what we assumed in this work.
Despite these limitations, this study provides
a comprehensive repository of data and estimates
on lithium supply and a transparent set of parameters
used for projecting demand. It also provides
a context for interpreting and comparing
results from previous investigations. Furthermore,
we hope this research facilitates future
studies examining the adequacy of this unique

1. One megatonne (Mt) = 106 tonnes (t) = one teragram
(Tg, SI) ≈ 1.102 × 106 short tons.
2. One square kilometer (km2, SI)=100 hectares (ha)
≈ 0.386 square miles ≈ 247 acres.
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About the Authors
Paul W. Gruber and Pablo A. Medina were
candidates for the degrees of MBA and master’s
of science in sustainable systems at the University
of Michigan’s Erb Institute in Ann Arbor,
Michigan, USA, at the time this article was written.
Gregory A. Keoleian is codirector of the
Center for Sustainable Systems and professor at
the School of NaturalResources and the Environment
and the Department of Civil and Environmental
Engineering at the University of Michigan,
and Stephen E. Kesler is a professor in the
Department of Geological Sciences at the University
of Michigan. Mark P. Everson is the technical
leader of the Manufacturing and Purchasing
Strategy research group and Timothy J. Wallington
is the technical leader of the Sustainability
Science research group at FordMotor Company’s
Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn,


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