Gigafactories: Without enough lithium, what's the point?
It’s no secret that raw materials — especially lithium — power the energy transition. If you own an electric vehicle right now, it’s probably powered by a lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery. One of the biggest bottlenecks in the energy transition is the long lead times for raw materials like lithium and, of course, which countries control supply. A “chronic shortage” of lithium is expected after 2030. It’s estimated that upwards of $750 billion has been invested in building 399 gigafactories. According to Simon Moores, an expert in the lithium-ion to electric vehicle supply chain, the trouble is that each gigafactory “consumes at least one traditional-sized mine's worth of lithium each year”. Moores argues that this almost trillion-dollar advancement hasn’t happened in “lock-step” with securing more supply. The elephant in the room is that lithium has the potential to do a lot of good for the planet, but the mining process is not sustainable. A single tonne of lithium requires an estimated 500,000 gallons of water (critical power supplies). EU regulation proposes a certain percentage of recycled lithium must be used when manufacturing new lithium-ion batteries. Lithium is fairly easy to locate but incredibly difficult to extract — planning and building a mine can take up to ten years. So how can the “bottleneck” be widened? A key part of the answer may sit with companies like Canadian-based Li-Cycle in the Clean Water and Waste ETF (C5KW). Li-Cycle is the largest recycler of lithium-ion batteries in North America. Together with Glencore International AG (producer and recycler of critical minerals), they have signed a letter of intent to develop the Portovesme hub in Italy. The project could be the largest source of battery-grade lithium on the continent, according to Li-Cycle Co-founder Tim Johnston (Innovation news network). Should the world focus more on infrastructure for lithium recycling than building more gigafactories?