Editor’s Note, 9/11/2009: based on remarks in the comments section (some unnecessarily mean), it is clear that I made a mistake concerning the actual rarity of “rare-earth” materials. Although they are abundant in the earth’s crust, it is the fact that it is exceedingly difficult to find them in high enough concentrations to make mining them profitable that makes them a concern for being resource-limiting. I’ve edited my post to make that clear.
As an electric car nut, one of the most common quibbles I hear often revolves around the perception that if we do make a wholesale shift to EVs, we are just trading one foreign, limited-resource addiction (oil) for another (lithium).
But, as it turns out, there is no shortage of lithium. Our own Karen Pease has written thoughtfully about this in the past, and today there is news that a single lithium mine in Nevada could produce enough of the stuff on its own to make 650 million Nissan LEAFs or 1 billion Chevy Volts (my thanks to the commenter at the end of the post over at greencarcongress.com for doing those calculations). And that’s just one mine in Nevada — mines all over the world also contain vast quantities of lithium.
And we all went happily down the road to our EV future. Nope. Lithium-shmithium. We may not have a shortage of lithium, but we are likely bound towards a future with a shortage of EV materials that you’ve never heard of — things with odd names like dysprosium, lanthanum, neodymium, and terbium.