Where does lithium come from?

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How many lithium-ion batteries do you own? Let me see, I have one mobile/cell phone, one laptop, two digital cameras and one brick-like MP3 player (not to mention several old phones gathering dust somewhere) – they’re all rechargable, so the chances are they’re powered by lithium-ion batteries. So that’s at least 5. Multiply that by everyone in the developed world and you’ve got a lot of lithium.

But where does all that lithium come from? I must confess to having no idea. Then I came across the following article in The Daily Mail: In search of Lithium: The battle for the 3rd element. A lot of it is under a desert in Bolivia, and if we’re all “going to be driving electric cars in the future” (or, more realistically, using a lot more Li-ion batteries generally), it’s going to have to mined.

Although I can’t believe I’m linking to Daily Mail story in a serious way, the article is pretty good, and worth looking at the for the dramatic desert pictures alone. I shall also (grudgingly) applaud them for (a) covering science in this way and (b) explaining how lithium-ion batteries work – with a graphic.


Neil Withers (Associate Editor, Nature Chemistry)