Most Plug-in Electric Vehicles (PEVs), cell phones and laptop computers use Lithium-ion batteries because they are safe, highly efficient, cost-effective, and made from supplies found throughout the world.
Lithium-ion (Li-ion) car batteries are designed for recyling and contain no toxic materials or rare earth elements. Recycling of PEV batteries can cut U.S. demand for virgin lithium for automotive use in half, according to the Argonne National Laboratory.
PEV car batteries come with warranties from 8 to 10 years and 100,000 to 150,000 miles, so PEV battery recycling may not be needed for several years to come. Because PEV batteries may have up to 70% of life remaining after their automotive use is exhausted, making it economically compelling for automakers, battery manufacturers and others to explore potential secondary uses. Secondary use of PEV batteries could postpone recycling needs further.
Batteries account for 25% of lithium demand and future demand is likely to be dominated by batteries. Lithium reserves are large and widespread, with supply concentrations present on most continents, and production is increasing. Worldwide lithium reserves are conservatively estimated to be 11 million metric tons (United States Geological Survey, USGS) but other experts estimate reserves of 14 to 30 million metric tons. This makes world supply of lithium sufficient for many decades of growing PEV battery production, according to recent Department of Energy studies.
PEV batteries require very small amounts of lithium: about 2.5 to 4 grams for the Chevy Volt or Nissan LEAF. Just one million tons of lithium is enough to produce 365 million units of Chevy Volts (16 kWh battery) or 250 million units of Nissan LEAFs (24 kWh battery). Lithium is estimated to account for only about 2% to 4% of the cost of a PEV battery today.
Rare Earth Elements
Rare earlth elements are not used in Li-ion batteries but are needed for PEV power electronics and electric motors. Many rare earth metals used in PEV electric motors and power electronics are mined in China, raising concerns about supply vulnerability. While China currently produces over 95% of the world's rare earth elements, about half of the proven global resources are located in other nations with both global and domestic supplies expanding.
- University of California, Davis, Institute for Transportation Studies
- U.S. Department Alternative Fuel Data Center