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Lithium shortage may unplug electric car revolution

April 19, 2021

By Paul Homewood



Car makers will face production delays on millions of electric vehicles as mining for lithium fails to keep pace with soaring demand, according to Rystad Energy.

Mining capacity can cope with current demand in electric vehicles, but car makers will face “a serious lithium supply deficit” from 2027, the energy research firm predicted.

The supply crunch is expected to hit just before the UK’s ban on new petrol and diesel sales begins in 2030.

It warned the shortage could triple the price of lithium by the end of the decade unless new investment in mines is made soon.

James Ley of Rystad Energy warned that major disruption was brewing for electric car manufacturers.

“If more mining projects are not added to the pipeline quickly, the energy transition of road transport may need to slow down,” he said.

The shortage will mean the production of 3.3m electric vehicles will be delayed in 2027, growing to 20m in 2030, according to Rystad.

Lithium is one of the key components of the rechargeable batteries used in such cars. Rystad estimated that it can take up to seven years to get a new lithium mining project up and running.

Demand for lithium carbonate equivalent is estimated at 300,000 tonnes this year but is expected to rise to 2.8m tonnes by 2028.

“More investment decisions to build new lithium mining projects need to be added to the pipeline, and fast,” the report said.

“Although lithium-ion is not the only battery technology, it is far superior in electric vehicle applications and won’t be substituted by anything else this decade.”

Lithium shortage may unplug electric car revolution (

  1. bobn permalink
    April 19, 2021 10:08 am

    … and cobalt, and copper and rare earths and ….

    And to mine these materials we need? Diesel motive power!

  2. Dave Ward permalink
    April 19, 2021 10:24 am

    “It warned the shortage could triple the price of lithium by the end of the decade”

    Great! So in order to produce EV’s that no one actually needs, the price of smaller consumer style batteries (which ARE useful) will also get hammered…

  3. Lorde Late permalink
    April 19, 2021 10:37 am

    Oh dear.

  4. April 19, 2021 10:48 am

    Would be a shame, I think EVs are so much obviously better than engine cars in many ways, there just isn’t the State interest in the infrastructure to make them more viable.

    • April 20, 2021 7:38 am


      a common view but a misconception in my view.
      By the time the power is generated, transmitted and distributed, it then has to be rectified then inverted back to A.C. power before it can drive the car.

      Consider the large extra infrastructure to provide power for these vehicles and the existing one that is effectively being scrapped, for little overall gain.

      • Colin MacDonald permalink
        April 20, 2021 12:05 pm

        I’ve seen the numbers for power plant to wheels efficiency for a Tesla, I think with a 60% efficient CGCT plant you get a gas to wheels efficiency of around 35%, which is better than if you burned the gas in LPG car, but not the 85% that Teslarati rave about. Like most of the green movement they can’t see the big picture.
        My bright idea is that you should have e cars with much smaller batteries but employing purpose built range extenders, as trialled by Obrist Engineering in Austria. Cars nearly always have engines that run at 20% load 90% of the time, it makes sense to run a very small ICE at optimum load to charge a battery and use that battery to run an electric motor. You can likely achieve better overall emissions than a full on e car but with less cost, and no range anxiety.

    • Adam Gallon permalink
      April 20, 2021 8:18 am

      Why should the state do this? The state didn’t build oil refineries & petrol stations.

  5. Devoncamel permalink
    April 19, 2021 10:51 am

    The problem as ever has been exacerbated by politics. The rush to ban ICE cars is a direct result of all and sundry falling for the climate emergency zero carbon scam. The best solutions are found through technology and innovation, not self serving politicos. As with renewable energy the true cost is slowly revealing itself and people are waking up to the impoverishment that awaits.

    • Robert Christopher permalink
      April 19, 2021 2:47 pm

      Politics ruins Everything!

  6. Thomas Carr permalink
    April 19, 2021 11:03 am

    It remains to be seen how long the useful life of Li-ion batteries proves to be. Also as regards any process for their recovery/scrapping. It could be that Lithium recovery is a practical proposition and therefor a secondary source of the material.

    I have yet to read the details of the cost of batteries as a proportion of the total cost of cars but it could be that the battery capacity is so compromised after 5-7 years use that a new battery will be essential.

    So it sounds like reality may prove expensive and a car with a dead battery will have a scrap value only. So it’s not likely that one battery will last the life of the vehicle.

    Mid-life resuscitation will be an expensive shock, perhaps.
    A level of planned obsolescence that Detroit could have never dreamt of.

    • Gerry, England permalink
      April 19, 2021 11:09 am

      Look at WUWT for a post about the huge environmental costs of battery cars and that batteries that are only halfway through there life are being scrapped already.

      • Thomas Carr permalink
        April 19, 2021 11:22 am

        Thanks. Who are WUWT, please?

      • Gerry, England permalink
        April 19, 2021 2:27 pm

      • Nancy & John Hultquist permalink
        April 19, 2021 3:55 pm

        Thomas Carr,
        WUWT is a web site [CA – USA] started by a meteorologist, Anthony Watts, and now mostly populated by postings by others. There may be four or more posts per day. Years ago Watts, and many volunteers, exposed the shoddy state of weather stations in a series titled “How not to measure temperature.”
        Here is one:
        How not to measure temperature, part 75 – – –
        station in Fairbury, Nebraska
        Date is 2008, note the 75 in title.

        If one is interested in all things climate, and more, one could spend weeks reading the backlog.
        Regular contributors include Charles Rotter (now sort of operations chief), Eric Worrall (never sleeps), Willis Eschenbach (unique), and David Middleton (sarcastic voice from the oil patch), and others.

    • Ray Sanders permalink
      April 19, 2021 11:36 am

      “Watts up with that” (WUWT)

      • Thomas Carr permalink
        April 19, 2021 12:01 pm

        Thanks Ray.

    • Sobaken permalink
      April 19, 2021 1:07 pm

      Anyone who ever used a mobile phone or a laptop already knows exactly how long is the lifespan of lithium batteries. They last about 1000 cycles, as advertised. Or 3-4 years if you charge once in 1-2 days. So theoretically, car batteries should last long enough, if you have a 300 km range battery, and drive 12000 km a year, that amounts to just 40 full cycles a year, meaning the battery should be good for 20-25 years. But if electric cars are to be used for long distance travel, “fast” charging will probably ruin their batteries much much faster.

      And as far as I know, lithium scrap isn’t worth anything, it’s much cheaper to mine and refine new lithium than to refine it from dead batteries. If prices for lithium increase due to shortage, maybe it will make sense to reprocess it. But prices for EVs wll consequently increase as well.

      • Nancy & John Hultquist permalink
        April 19, 2021 4:00 pm

        This table uses miles, and is for the USA, …

      • NeverReady permalink
        April 19, 2021 5:18 pm

        …and add the wife and 2 kids, all the luggage and a caravan on tow…and you’ll be needing to charge it as you drive it, otherwise you won’t be going very far very fast.

        I thought the useful life of a EV battery was around 10 years?

    • Robert Christopher permalink
      April 19, 2021 2:53 pm

      You were saying:

      And this in a country that could soon have a Green Party in government.

      • Harry Passfield permalink
        April 19, 2021 3:30 pm

        Robin, if you’re claiming ‘this country’ is the UK, then the chances of it having a Green (party) government is extremely slight. But that doesn’t mean they couldn’t insinuate themselves into our Tory (cough) government- as they already seem to have done with the key parts of the Civil Service.

  7. Mack permalink
    April 19, 2021 11:10 am

    Equally interesting was an article in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph (‘Battle for rare earth minerals turns radioactive’) discussing how the recent victors of a snap election in Greenland aren’t terribly keen on allowing foreign mining prospectors to trash their southern fjords, apparently home to 25% of the world’s easily recoverable rare earth metals. With the majority of current Greenland mining licences held by U.K. based companies I dare say that there will be a few very nervous investors out there this morning.

    • Colin MacDonald permalink
      April 20, 2021 12:10 pm

      I would sooner get our rare earths from Greenland than from China… There’s a lot of eco wokery about Greenland, maybe if Denmark were to cease bunging one billion dollars a year they might wake up and decide to take the mining revenues.

  8. Gerry, England permalink
    April 19, 2021 11:19 am

    And just to show what fun owning a battery car would be a Tesla has crashed and burst into flames in the US. Even 4 hours and 30,000 gallons of water didn’t work so the fire crews just let it burn out.

    • April 19, 2021 4:32 pm

      Nobody sensible puts water on a lithium fire. It doesn’t work and hazardous gases are released.

      • markl permalink
        April 19, 2021 5:12 pm

        There are chemicals readily available that snuff lithium fires and with the growing use of Li-Ion batteries in cars/trucks we should soon be seeing them on every fire truck.

    • dearieme permalink
      April 19, 2021 6:31 pm

      Using water was astonishingly stupid. Texas, eh?

      • Dave Andrews permalink
        April 20, 2021 5:20 pm


        They used the water to keep the temperature down whilst allowing the fire to burn itself out. Eric Worrall who posted the blog at WUWT said he had been told by someone in the fire brigade that nothing was able to extinguish such a battery fire and the only option was to cordon off the area, keep the temperature down and allow the fire to burn out.

  9. Gamecock permalink
    April 19, 2021 12:15 pm

    ‘Mining capacity can cope with current demand in electric vehicles, but car makers will face “a serious lithium supply deficit” from 2027, the energy research firm predicted.’

    Not to worry. Demand for electrics isn’t going to go up.

    Banning sale of ICE/diesel won’t make EVs any more attractive. Down market EVs are awful. People will just keep using their old vehicles. Or leave the country.

    Your government has jumped the shark. Banning petrol vehicles, Net Zero. Insanity. Everyone knows it, except for government.

    No tyranny can withstand deliberate non cooperation.

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      April 19, 2021 8:20 pm

      The government is not going to make it easy or cheap for people to keep their old ICEs going. They will make MOTs more demanding and make big hikes in fuel-duty (when you can find some).

      • Gamecock permalink
        April 19, 2021 10:24 pm

        Only if you let them.

        And what’s a MOTs?

      • Adam Gallon permalink
        April 20, 2021 8:24 am

        MoT, Ministry of Transport test.
        All vehicles over 3 years old, have to take & pass the test annually, to ensure they’re roadworthy.
        As for “letting them”, how do you propose we stop them?

      • Gamecock permalink
        April 20, 2021 10:43 am

        Elect different MPs. You have democratic control of your government.

        Thanks for MOTs info. Some U.S. states have annual inspection requirements, but many states have rescinded them.

  10. Chaswarnertoo permalink
    April 19, 2021 12:44 pm

    As I keep saying, we have 100+ years of oil and less than 10 years of lithium…
    Banning oil powered cars is insanity.

    • Sobaken permalink
      April 19, 2021 1:30 pm

      USGS estimates worldwide lithium resources to be at 80 million tonnes, and as with all minerals it is scaled upwards every year despite continued extraction, as new deposits are discovered.
      NMC-811 batteries require 0.111 kg/kWh of pure metal lithium. Older technologies could use up to 25% more, but it’s unlikely they will be used in a massive EV build outs.
      80 mT and 111 T/MWh amount to 720 TWh of batteries just from what is discovered today, enough to manufacture 12 billions electric cars (each with a 60 kWh battery).
      You’ll run out of cobalt or nickel well before you run out of lithium. But then again, new reserves of these metals will be discovered in the future as well, and next generation batteries will almost certainly use less materials. When thinking about mineral scarcity, it is very useful to remember who won the Simon-Ehrlich wager.

      • Chaswarnertoo permalink
        April 21, 2021 9:29 am

        Now, apply that argument to oil. I still win.

  11. cookers52 permalink
    April 19, 2021 1:15 pm

    Paul, does this mean you will have to return to human pedal power?

  12. Broadlands permalink
    April 19, 2021 1:25 pm

    The Chinese have slowly purchased many of the world’s best strategic mineral sources and they have some of the best lithium mines. Meanwhile “Sleepy Joe” is doubling down on climate change. That proverbial fan is about to get hit?

  13. It doesn't add up... permalink
    April 19, 2021 3:03 pm

    Will Cornish lithium be on stream by then? All seems to be going a bit slowly.

  14. Farmer nev permalink
    April 19, 2021 3:15 pm

    Government policy…………just remind me has FM radio disappeared yet?

  15. Coeur de Lion permalink
    April 19, 2021 4:27 pm

    It’s just nice to see a rising tide of scepticism. Hete In the UK. we need the rather flaky Climate Change Committee to front up on the podium as we had during the COVID crisis. Surely the Climate Crisis deserves as much?

  16. April 19, 2021 4:33 pm

    “If more mining projects are not added to the pipeline quickly, the energy transition of road transport may need to slow down,” he said.

    It’s barely moving anyway.

    • markl permalink
      April 19, 2021 6:13 pm

      “It’s barely moving anyway.” +1 Despite their superior driving/passenger characteristics, after more than a decade of commercially available EVs the percentage of them on the road belies any acceptance ……… for several reasons with the main ones being cost, range, charge time, and charge availability. Even a complicit MSM can’t hide the truth.

      • Chaswarnertoo permalink
        April 21, 2021 9:31 am

        What ‘superior’ characteristics? Killing pedestrians who can’t hear them coming?

  17. 2hmp permalink
    April 19, 2021 6:26 pm

    Honda and Mercedes are not convinced that electric cars are the thing. They are going along with it but people are not going to buy electric cars at market price, so when the subsidies are removed people will use used petrol cars plus a few diesels.

  18. Vernon E permalink
    April 19, 2021 6:53 pm

    The highest portion of cost of running a motor car is depreciation. Has anyone considered what this may be with a £20,000 plus EV? Will anyone buy a 3-4 year old car knowing it may soon need a new battery at £7,000?

    • Broadlands permalink
      April 19, 2021 9:59 pm

      Other questions to ask. What sort of trade-in value will one get for an older conventional vehicle? And what will dealers do with all of them?

      • Adam Gallon permalink
        April 20, 2021 8:26 am

        They’ll be exported to countries that haven’t subscribed to the EV cult. Or scrapped, like the “Clunkers for Cash” vehicles were.

    • Colin MacDonald permalink
      April 20, 2021 12:18 pm

      If you look after the battery a Tesla should give you 150,000 miles. And what’s a conventional car worth after 150,000 miles? Most are scrap metal before then. My own cars done 104,000 miles, it’s only worth £800 max, if any of the fuel injection, dpf, egr, etc fails then it’s scrap metal.

      • 4 Eyes permalink
        April 22, 2021 12:12 pm

        I have looked after my 2002 Honda Civic and it running like a charm after 323000 km. On the used car market it is not worth more than scrap metal. Even if you get 150,000 miles out of a battery, your Tesla won’t be worth a cracker at that time. And you can’t fix a battery but you can fix an ICE. Just sayin’.

  19. MikeHig permalink
    April 20, 2021 1:29 pm

    Colin MacDonald: “My bright idea is that you should have e cars with much smaller batteries but employing purpose built range extenders”
    Sorry to tell you this but a number of auto companies have beaten you to it: BMW; Chevrolet; etc.
    (If your comment was a spoof….you got me!).

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