International Industrial Ecology Day 2021

The uncertain future of U.S. lithium needs l

During the 20th century, the United States went from being the largest producer and user of lithium to being heavily reliant on imports of lithium chemicals and lithium-containing batteries from Asia. Drawing on that perspective, we here generate four lithium scenarios by building upon the existing Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSPs): Sustainable Future, Regional Rivalries, Adaptation Challenges, and Fossil Fuel Everything. In each scenario lithium use has been modeled for the main products that contain lithium: batteries for electric and hybrid vehicles, photovoltaic energy storage systems, small electronics, other non-dissipative uses (e.g., desiccants in air conditioners), and dissipative uses (e.g., lubricants). The implications of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on lithium demand are also included. Results are reported for in-use flows, total material stocks, end-of-life flows, and recycled (old scrap) flows. We find that the Sustainable Future scenario requires the highest amount of lithium (cumulatively 943 Gg in the period 2020-2050, peak inflow in 2033 at 44 Gg); in contrast the scenario ‘Fossil Fuel Everything’ requires only 455 Gg and peaks in 2050 at 21 Gg. From the perspective of this three-decade scenario study, the COVID-19 implications appear to be modest, although short term impacts on supply and demand might be significant on specific sectors. The future electrification of the U.S. vehicle fleet and energy storage systems will depend upon a reliable and resilient international supply chain of lithium chemicals and/or batteries, as well as vigorous recycling efforts.

Author(s)

Name Affiliation
Alessio Miatto Yale University
Paul Wolfram Yale University
Barbara Reck Yale University
Thomas Graedel Yale University

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