From 1817 to the present day, how lithium became indispensable

Posted Feb 17 2022 at 17:32Updated Feb 17. 2022 at 06:17 PM

Many call it the “new white gold.” In just a few decades, lithium has become one of the most popular materials in the world. Without it, smartphones and laptops wouldn’t power up, and most electric cars would just sit there.

Because this alkaline metal, the lightest of all, is essential for the manufacture of most batteries installed in everyday electronic devices. ” The challenge of lithium is to be able to lower our greenhouse gas emissions and switch to electric, or all-electric “, explains Barbara Pompili, Minister for the Ecological Transition. The government has mobilized 1 billion euros to secure its supply.

The first battery presented to Napoleon

In this video, ” The echoes » return briefly to the history of the first battery (without lithium) presented to Napoleon Bonaparte in 1801, then the discovery of lithium in 1817, up to the first experiments with lithium-ion batteries in the 1970s, and their implementation on the market. market from 1991 for Sony camcorders. Today, it is the electric car that is driving the demand for lithium.

The documentary details the key role played by lithium in the functioning of everyday electronic devices, and the different methods that allow it to be recovered, in rocks or brines, such as those of the Salar de Uyuni, in Bolivia, which is home to the largest salt desert in the world.

France must extract lithium on its territory

Barbara Pompili, Minister for Ecological Transition

While Australia, Chile and Argentina are currently the world’s largest producers – with different extraction techniques – other countries could join the race. From California to Europe, several projects are under study. France, which has classified lithium as a “strategic material”, would have deposits, and several experiments have already taken place.

The post-lithium is already preparing

France must extract lithium on its territory », declares, exclusively in this documentary of the Echoes, the Minister of Ecological Transition Barbara Pompili. But lithium mining projects regularly raise the concerns of local residents and environmental activists. Their fear: damage to ecosystems, fauna or flora.

In Serbia, for example, opponents blocked important road crossings, pushing the government to abandon, in early 2022, a gigantic and highly controversial lithium mine project in the Jadar Valley. In France, voices are already raised against possible projects. The Minister is interviewed on these concerns.

In this context, a sector is emerging: recycling. The objective: to recover the lithium in end-of-life batteries for reuse. Because with dependent industries, lithium needs should be multiplied by up to 42 in the next twenty years, according to the International Energy Agency. However, scientists are working on alternatives. Although it seems indispensable today, the post-lithium era is already being prepared.

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