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The Scramble Toward Lithium

While fossil fuels maintain their leadership position in the world today as the preferred substance for propelling vehicles and generating power for our homes and industry, one quick look around the globe over the last few decades and it becomes immediately apparent that discarding our reliance on this technologically primitive means of doing both would do much to advance our civilization.

The world’s geopolitical landscape will change virtually overnight when this transition occurs. Of course, it will take a few decades to shake the crap out of the air and to rebalance the environment, but it will at least be a step in the right direction after a long march in the wrong. At the core of this evolutionary step lies one specific element on the Periodic Table, Lithium.

The Anti-Hydrogen Car Conspiracy

There is none. Hydrogen-powered cars are not a logical evolutionary step: They are not consistent with a changing paradigm. They are a financially impractical leap. While the technology may at some time prove cost-effective, the initiation and maintenance of Hydrogen refueling stations throughout America is a financial impossibility. Any politician who speaks about Hydrogen as a logical alternative to fossil fuel in the next three or four decades is either intentionally pandering to your naivety or is himself, ignorant. So, forget Hydrogen.

What we do have in abundance and immediately availability is electricity, generated variously through the unfortunate burning of fuels, or through the light of the Sun. Therein lies the role of Lithium in our world today and tomorrow, facilitating the transition away from coal and oil to cleaner, more balanced sustainability.

Refueling Stations At Your Home

We all have readily available refueling stations at our homes today: Electrical outlets. Some may require minor upgrading, but most currently (no pun intended) fit the need for refueling today’s electric cars: Not Golf Carts, GEM’s or similarly-designed Neighborhood Electric Vehicles, but an actual car capable of taking you and your family 300 to 500 miles before requiring “refueling”. Tesla Motors is getting very close to the mark today, albeit at a hefty price tag per vehicle. But only for now.

Only the battery technology stands in the way, and we’re fairly quickly pushing that along.

A quick summary: Lithium, the core element off the Periodic Table, is at the focus of nearly every portable power source we use today. It’s in our Cell Phones, Laptops, Calculators, Pacemakers, Cameras, and presently in our cars, to a very limited extent.

Combined always with another chemical or two off the Periodic Table, Lithium technology is the focus of tomorrow: growing storage capabilities, decreasing overall battery weight, beating down the cost. Those are the goals of research.

Here’s a quick comparison: Most of the Lithium chemistry batteries today, such as those used in the Tesla or Chevy Volt have from two- to three-times the storage capability of comparably-weighted Lead-Acid batteries - like the one you presently use in your car to start it up in the morning. The price, though, for that Lithium power is about 5 times as much.

So, as an example, if you live off-grid, as we do, to replace our $3,000, 1,000 Amp Hour reserve of Lead-Acid batteries with Lithium technology, effectively doubling or tripling our reserve storage, would mean a cash outlay of about $15,000. That won’t happen. $6,000 probably, given the far greater lifespan, but $15K? No way.

Still, for those of us immersed one way or another in alternative energy it’s exciting. It should be for anyone driving a conventionally-powered car, too, but that only becomes apparent when gasoline takes an abrupt upward turn, as it will again now that we’ve become accustomed to $3.50 per gallon.

We’re well on the way to making a technological leap in the near future that will bring advanced Lithium technology to the forefront. Already, and in it’s existing form there are battery companies who manufacture “giant” Lithium batteries in the internal confines of the equivalent of shipping containers, sold to the ever-increasing number of Solar Farms that harvest, store, and distribute the Sun’s power across the grid. These behemoth batteries are of ever-increasing demand. Among these manufacturers is A123 at this link.

What will likely solve the weight and range issue for cars? The most exciting possibility lies with Lithium-Air technology, whereby Lithium is combined with...air, virtually halving the weight and thus at least doubling the range. Although we’ve followed this along for some time, MIT recently released the results of their research here.

So where is Lithium? Mostly, unfortunately, in South America: Bolivia and Chile to be precise. But, in America we also maintain a couple of fairly substantial deposits in otherwise fairly desolate areas where the effects of mining Lithium will arguably bring little visual harm to the landscape.

Western Lithium controls at least one such major deposit and that’s important because the cost of shipping Lithium from South America continues to add costs. It also prevents what we might call the recurrence of the “Saudi Factor” where one primary player controls the distribution of our primary energy source (until the advent of Fracking, that is).

What else is good about Lithium? No chemicals are used in its extraction. Just water. And, those other chemicals that shake out in the process are all practical, useable chemicals. No bad by-products.

Too good to be true? This isn’t Swampland at $200 an acre. It’s just science and technology jointly evolving for the good of humanity. Something to celebrate...for a change.

And, while I hold no financial interests in anything associated with Lithium, it is beginning to look as an investment a lot like Standard Oil in 1920. Something to ponder, I suppose.