• Open Access

The Lithium future—resources, recycling, and the environment


  • Editor
    Devid Pellow

Thomas Cherico Wanger, Environment Institute, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Mawson Bld., Room G39, University of Adelaide, SA 5005, Australia. Tel: +61 (0) 8 8303 5254; fax: + 61 (0) 8 8303 4347. E-mail: thochewa@gmail.com


The demand for Lithium-ion batteries as a major power source in portable electronic devices and vehicles is rapidly increasing. I use cumulative data of vehicle, mobile phone, laptop, and digital camera production to show that demand will overshoot the available global Lithium resources before 2025. Even if 100% of all Lithium-ion batteries were recycled today, recycling could not prevent this resource depletion in time. As the increasing Lithium scarcity will increase the price, it will be feasible to mine diluted resources with a strong environmental impact. I highlight these impacts in Lithium-rich Bolivia, the potential new “Saudi Arabia of Lithium.” Lithium extraction is likely to cause substantial water pollution, and—through impacts on native diversity—facilitate human health impacts from cyanobacteria that are normally kept at bay by native flamingos. The strongly intertwined Lithium extraction impacts on the environment, biodiversity, and human health from evaporative ponds and ore mining need to be taken into consideration when we discuss resource protection and opportunities from Lithium recycling. Overall, sensible Lithium recycling strategies can provide effective resource and environmental protection right now but urgently need to be supplemented by alternative technologies in the near-future.