Can Lithium Batteries Compete with Lead?

I was talking with a friend of mine who specifies battery technologies for a living. Our conversation drifted to the topic of electric vehicles and, more specifically, the batteries for them.

I suggested the idea that many times the good old lead acid battery is hard to beat for many applications, even ones with severe weight requirements because:

  • Joule for joule they are heavier than newer battery types include Lithium chemistry variants, but they are not an order of magnitude heavier
  • Most everyone knows how to deal with a lead acid battery
  • The recycling process is very mature – at least in the US
  • Within practical limits, lead acid batteries handle over charging
  • Vehicle electrical systems are most often designed with the expectation a lead acid battery is strapped across the bus to help regulate the voltage

My friend added some more thoughts on why it is, perhaps, folly to think Lithium batteries will fulfill the goal of replacing today’s vehicles with all electric versions…

  • There is only so much Lithium in the world
  • There is not enough Lithium to make enough batteries to replace even a fraction of today’s vehicles
  • With a couple of exceptions, Bolivia has a large share of the world’s Lithium reserves and may become the new OPEC leader of Lithium

The particular post came about after reading this interesting article…

Can Better Lead-Acid Batteries Compete in a Lithium-ion World?

…which describes some promising enhancements to the good old lead acid battery.

I wonder if Axion Power is publicly traded…

2 Responses to “Can Lithium Batteries Compete with Lead?”

  1. I would like to comment on the statements that there is “only so much lithium in the world” and “that there is not enough lithium to make enough batteries to replace even a fraction of today’s vehicles” –
    At a major Lithium Supply and Markets Conference held in Chile in January this year, lithium reserves and resources were estimated to total between 28.0 and 35.7 million tonnes expressed as Li 149.0 to 200.0 million tonnes of lithium carbonate – the feed chemical for lithium-ion batteries.
    Using the figures presented by leading producers of 0.6 kilos of carbonate per KWH of battery capacity, each million tonnes of Li is sufficient to power 530 million vehicles requiring a 10 KWH battery. At current carbonate prices, the lithium cost per battery is about 1% of the total battery cost.

    The Salar de Uyuni contains about one sixth of the world’s resources.

    Keith Evans
    Industrial Minerals Consultant

  2. Thank you for the clarification and for taking the time to post.

    One must also analyze how much energy it takes to affordably access the Lithium reserves in the world.

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