Does the scarcity of raw materials needed to make lithium-ion batteries mean that we won’t be able to build enough batteries for our energy demands?

 |  6 May 2024

No. There is no fundamental shortage of raw materials. Lithium, cobalt, manganese, nickel and other metals are relatively abundant on Earth's crust. History shows that there are virtually no examples where supply failed to meet demand.

The highest-quality ores are finite, but mining can target lower-quality ores as needed.

Proven reserves (commonly cited as the limiting quantity) only reflect exploration and production to date. Actual materials in place are vastly larger, and recoverability depends on technological and economic factors–both of which change dramatically in favor of production when demand creates the necessary incentive.

History shows that there are virtually no examples where supply failed to meet demand as a result of raw material limitations for materials that are not fundamentally scarce. Gold, platinum and gemstones are fundamentally scarce in a way that the metal ingredients in lithium-ion batteries are not. Cobalt, for example, is at least 10,000 times more abundant than gold, but only 50 times more cobalt is produced each year (about 123,000 tonnes) than gold (about 3,200 tonnes) at present.

Temporary supply shortages around material bottlenecks do occur. These shortages typically incentivize additional investment in exploration and production whenever market demand signals that additional investment in supply is warranted.

Grid storage applications don’t require high-performance lithium-ion battery chemistries, and can instead use types of batteries that use only abundant materials. There are six major lithium-ion battery chemistries in commercial production today: lithium cobalt oxide, lithium manganese oxide, lithium iron phosphate, lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide, lithium nickel cobalt aluminium oxide and lithium titanate. Lithium itself actually comprises only a small fraction of the battery’s mass–typically less than 5%. Cobalt, manganese and nickel types are the highest-performance chemistries at the moment, and these are also the least-abundant metals. Iron, phosphorus, aluminum and titanium are abundant. 


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The disruption of the energy sector by technologies like solar photovoltaics, onshore wind power and lithium-ion batteries is inevitable. There is no fundamental shortage of raw materials or issues of battery storage that will halt this disruption.

Solar, wind and battery power will disproportionately replace old systems with a system that has dramatically different architecture, boundaries and capabilities. Concepts of scarcity will become obsolete.

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