Increased domestic lithium production plays a crucial role in President Joe Biden’s green energy plan, as 2021 marked the largest rollout of solar, wind, and electric batteries in the history of the United States.
Nevertheless, lithium mining has quietly revealed itself to be a significant contributor to environmental pollution in the frantic rush to abandon fossil fuels.
On May 2, the Biden administration announced the investment of more than US$3 billion to make more lithium batteries and their components. It’s a pivotal part of the president’s goal to have at least half of all vehicle sales in the United States be electric by 2030.
Currently, there are two main ways to obtain the sought-after element: Hard rock ore mining and brine extraction.
While much of the carbon emitted from mining depends on the rock it’s extracted from, this technique still produces at least 15 tons of CO2 for every ton of lithium harvested.
Generally speaking, mining is a dirty business. Mineral extractions like lithium and coal – a fossil fuel – both fall under this umbrella. Collectively, the mining industry generates between 1.9 and 5.1 gigatons of carbon emissions annually.
The other approach to accessing lithium involves removing the metal from brine in areas with salt flats. However, this approach requires, on average, 500,000 gallons of water to procure a single ton of lithium. While it’s a less carbon-intensive process, brine extraction still results in tens of thousands of gallons of highly toxic wastewater needing proper storage or disposal.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg of green energy manufacturing behind the scenes.
Elements like cobalt and nickel are also crucial for renewable technologies like electric car
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