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The importance of lithium for achieving a low-carbon future: overview of the lithium extraction in the ‘Lithium Triangle’

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Abstract

This article addresses the importance of lithium as a key mineral in the energy transition towards a low-carbon future. There is undoubtedly a myriad of topics that can be explored within this statement. At this stage the intention is just to provide an overview of some of the most relevant technical, geopolitical and legal challenges faced by the countries in the Lithium Triangle within a first attempt to present them in a clear and straightforward way. This article provides a starting point in the analysis of lithium as one of the critical minerals for the future of our world.

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... Alongside the rare earth metals and critical minerals for RE technologies are other "conventional" minerals like copper, cobalt, lead, aluminium, manganese, nickel and acrylonitrile [37]. 1 Driving the surge in demand for critical metals and minerals is a combination of consumer preferences (for "green energy"), government subsidies (most recently in the form of COVID-19 stimulus packages), and the consolidation of global supply chains in copper, cobalt, cadmium, lithium, and rare earth elements, whose most destructive and least documented effects tend to be at the far ends of the value chain (i.e. extraction and disposal) [39][40][41][42][43][44]. ...
... For many analysts, the rapid expansion of RE and energy storage technologies represents a new form of "energy injustice" that is shifting the world's ecological footprint from wealthier, industrialized countries to global "sacrifice zones" [56] whose regional economies and populations are least able to govern the cycles of boom and bust, environmental degradation, and displacement [1,2,5,11,12]. Although calls are being made for "smarter" and more "responsible" forms of mining [1][2][3]5,9,14], questions have been raised about the longer-term impacts of green extraction on and local communities, natural ecosystems, national economies [2][3][4]14,41,43,55,[57][58][59][60][61][62]. ...
... Here the ability of states to orchestrate innovation and accumulation is constrained by the profit-maximizing actions of multinationals, whose financial resources, time horizons and third-party enforcement mechanisms (e.g., investor protection agreements) make it difficult for states to negotiate favorable terms for extracting and adding value to nonrenewable resources [51,71,105,106]. Within this context, concerns have been raised that the contemporary surge in demand for renewable energy will only further entrench the cycles of boom and bust that have long plagued the extractive sector [43,57,60,107,108]. ...
Article
There is widespread recognition that environmental disasters disproportionately affect the poor in developing countries, yet certain kinds of violence also strip white, middle-class communities in industrialized countries of vital resources to respond. Social vulnerability as a mutually constitutive relationship between distinct types of shocks and capacities to respond requires further research. I explore how the temporal dimension of shocks creates different types of structural risks, and articulate how these interact with the agency of affected communities. The first section deals with attributes of different environmental shocks, the second examines the agency of individuals and communities, the third analyzes the relationship between extractive industry violence and capacities for response. This generates a typology that enables us to chart the creation of vulnerable subjects. This framework also helps us develop insights into the underlying dimensions of social vulnerability and makes it possible to better classify cases of vulnerable populations.
... The lithium market has been historically dominated by a few players, known as the "Big Five": Albermarle (United States), Ganfeng (China), SQM (Chile), Tianqi (China), and Livent Corp. (United States) (Heredia et al., 2020). Other emerging players include the Australian company Galaxy Resources Ltd. and the Argentine corporation Orocobre Ltd (Heredia et al., 2020). ...
... The lithium market has been historically dominated by a few players, known as the "Big Five": Albermarle (United States), Ganfeng (China), SQM (Chile), Tianqi (China), and Livent Corp. (United States) (Heredia et al., 2020). Other emerging players include the Australian company Galaxy Resources Ltd. and the Argentine corporation Orocobre Ltd (Heredia et al., 2020). Argentina, Australia, Chile, and China alone produced 96% of lithium worldwide in 2019 (Geocomunes, 2021). ...
... Recently, the use of lithium to produce electric vehicle batteries has increased substantially, as shown in Fig. 2. The International Energy Agency (2020) estimates that the electric vehicle stock will also grow considerably due to the environmental goals countries aspire to reach in the next decades, demonstrated in Fig. 3. California, China, France, India, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom have established electric vehicle targets and pledged to end the sale of new combustion engine vehicles by 2030-2040. Although electric vehicles currently account for around 0.55% of the global car fleet (Heredia et al., 2020). Moreover, the International Energy Agency (2020) estimates that, by 2030, in a sustainable development scenario, the sales of electric vehicles will reach almost 50% of the total number of vehicles sold worldwide. ...
Article
Full-text available
This article addresses Mexico’s present situation in the lithium industry and its near future, ceteris paribus. Mexico’s short- and long-term lithium supply will not improve by the exploration and exploitation planned by the nationalistic objectives of the current government. This analysis demonstrates that significant changes must be made to Mexico’s energy policy to promote the development of lithium due to five risks: manufacturing capacity, misaligned incentives, industrial policies, geographic concentration, and limited international coordination. Therefore, although the world’s largest lithium mine was found in Sonora in 2019, Mexico’s policy approaches to nationalize lithium exploration and exploitation will not allow the country to capitalize on the boom of this industry, as happened in Bolivia. In the short term, Mexico’s policies will create an exploration deficit due to the country’s lack of know-how and investment. Thus, Mexico will not extract lithium in the long term nor benefit from the demand increase and development of a value chain, especially in North America. Given these risks, this article postulates that Mexico’s lithium policy should be revised to open its market to foreign investment and use this nascent market to a good advantage.
... Alongside the rare earth metals and critical minerals for RE technologies are other "conventional" minerals like copper, cobalt, lead, aluminium, manganese, nickel and acrylonitrile [37]. 1 Driving the surge in demand for critical metals and minerals is a combination of consumer preferences (for "green energy"), government subsidies (most recently in the form of COVID-19 stimulus packages), and the consolidation of global supply chains in copper, cobalt, cadmium, lithium, and rare earth elements, whose most destructive and least documented effects tend to be at the far ends of the value chain (i.e. extraction and disposal) [39][40][41][42][43][44]. ...
... For many analysts, the rapid expansion of RE and energy storage technologies represents a new form of "energy injustice" that is shifting the world's ecological footprint from wealthier, industrialized countries to global "sacrifice zones" [56] whose regional economies and populations are least able to govern the cycles of boom and bust, environmental degradation, and displacement [1,2,5,11,12]. Although calls are being made for "smarter" and more "responsible" forms of mining [1][2][3]5,9,14], questions have been raised about the longer-term impacts of green extraction on and local communities, natural ecosystems, national economies [2][3][4]14,41,43,55,[57][58][59][60][61][62]. ...
... Here the ability of states to orchestrate innovation and accumulation is constrained by the profit-maximizing actions of multinationals, whose financial resources, time horizons and third-party enforcement mechanisms (e.g., investor protection agreements) make it difficult for states to negotiate favorable terms for extracting and adding value to nonrenewable resources [51,71,105,106]. Within this context, concerns have been raised that the contemporary surge in demand for renewable energy will only further entrench the cycles of boom and bust that have long plagued the extractive sector [43,57,60,107,108]. ...
Article
Renewable energy (RE) is critical for curbing global greenhouse gas emissions to achieve 2 to 4 degrees of global warming by 2100. While this is an imperative technical response to the climate crisis, the shift to renewables is also driving a surge in demand for metals and minerals used in RE. Calls are being made for “smarter” and more “responsible” forms of mining, but questions remain about the socio-economic and environmental impacts of extraction, processing, application, and disposal at multiple scales. The literature has been limited to the technical and cost-benefit dimensions of managing RE global supply chains. This article seeks to expand this focus by developing a typology of displacement that may be used to understand the socio-economic and environmental effects of onshore wind, solar photovoltaics (PV), and lithium-ion batteries. It encourages a critical analysis of how the global surge in demand for renewable energy is affecting development pathways and displacement patterns.
... Currently, lithium as a natural resource is one of the minerals in most demand worldwide. The applications of the mineral to the electrical industry are remarkable [1]. From its use in batteries in the automotive sector to its application in the computer industry sector, or for use in the pharmaceutical industry, it extends to many components. ...
... This fact entails an awareness and concern of citizens for these aspects and that demand the attention of management by public policies to take these opinions and preferences into account. However, these limitations do not necessarily have to imply that these industrial projects be discarded, since they are positioned as an option for a low-carbon economy [1], but there should be a comprehensive analysis of the social impact, environmental and health terms for the population, and corrective actions should be proposed when necessary and provided that the overall assessment of the project is positive. ...
Article
Full-text available
Currently, the use of lithium as a resource in the manufacturing of technological components such as mobile phones, computers or even in the automotive sector, is in high demand. In this sense, the prospects for lithium open-pit mines in order to obtain this highly valued resource have improved remarkably. However, the installation of this type of mine causes certain negative environmental consequences such as air pollution, water pollution, and even a reduction in the biodiversity of the environment, which generates welfare losses due to the cost involved. The objective of this work is to analyse the preferences of the citizens of Cáceres (Spain) regarding the possible opening of an open-pit lithium mine in the surroundings of the city. For this, a choice experiment was carried out to identify the willingness to accept certain levels of contamination and/or reduction of biodiversity and to quantify its monetary quantification. Likewise, a mixed-effects model was applied in order to analyse the heterogeneity in preferences and the willingness to accept the installation. The results showed that water pollution is one of the most relevant attributes in the preferences, revealing a very high willingness to accept (€12–38/year) for water pollution compared to other attributes.
... Currently, lithium as a natural resource is one of the minerals in most demand worldwide. The applications of the mineral to the electrical industry are remarkable [1]. From its use in batteries in the automotive sector to its application in the computer industry sector, or for use in the pharmaceutical industry, it extends to many components. ...
... This fact entails an awareness and concern of citizens for these aspects and that demand the attention of management by public policies to take these opinions and preferences into account. However, these limitations do not necessarily have to imply that these industrial projects be discarded, since they are positioned as an option for a low-carbon economy [1], but there should be a comprehensive analysis of the social impact, environmental and health terms for the population, and corrective actions should be proposed when necessary and provided that the overall assessment of the project is positive. ...
Article
Full-text available
Currently, the use of lithium as a resource in the manufacturing of technological components such as mobile phones, computers or even in the automotive sector, is in high demand. In this sense, the prospects for lithium open-pit mines in order to obtain this highly valued resource have improved remarkably. However, the installation of this type of mine causes certain negative environmental consequences such as air pollution, water pollution, and even a reduction in the biodiversity of the environment, which generates welfare losses due to the cost involved. The objective of this work is to analyse the preferences of the citizens of Cáceres (Spain) regarding the possible opening of an open-pit lithium mine in the surroundings of the city. For this, a choice experiment was carried out to identify the willingness to accept certain levels of contamination and/or reduction of biodiversity and to quantify its monetary quantification. Likewise, a mixed-effects model was applied in order to analyse the heterogeneity in preferences and the willingness to accept the installation. The results showed that water pollution is one of the most relevant attributes in the preferences, revealing a very high willingness to accept (€12–38/year) for water pollution compared to other attributes. View Full-Text Keywords: lithium mine; contamination; experiment of choice; preferences; willingness to accept
... As a response to the cost-effective energy storage system, Lithium-Ions Batteries (LIBs) have emerged as the most promising solution [1][2][3]. In fact, as the lightest metal of the periodic table, lithium has the highest electrochemical potential and the highest energy density by weight of all metals [4]. ...
Article
Full-text available
The recent expansion of global Lithium Ion Battery (LIBs) production has generated a significant stress on the lithium demand. One of the means to produce this element is its extraction from different aqueous sources (salars, geothermal water etc.). However, the presence of other mono- and divalent cations makes this extraction relatively complex. Herein, we propose lithium-sodium separation by an electrodialysis (ED) process using a Lithium Composite Membrane (LCM), whose effectiveness was previously demonstrated by a Diffusion Dialysis process (previous work). LCM performances in terms of lithium Recovery Ratio (RR(Li+)) and Selectivity (S(Li/Na)) were investigated using different Li+/Na+ reconstituted solutions and two ED cells: a two-compartment cell was chosen for its simplicity, and a four-compartment one was selected for its potential to isolate the redox reactions at the electrodes. We demonstrated that the four-compartment cell use was advantageous since it provided membrane protection from protons and gases generated by the electrodes but that membrane selectivity was negatively affected. The impact of the applied current density and the concentration ratio of Na+ and Li+ in the feed compartment ([Na+]F/[Li+]F) were tested using the four-compartment cell. We showed that increasing the current density led to an improvement of RR(Li+) but to a reduction in the LCM selectivity towards Li+. Increasing the [Na+]F/[Li+]F ratios to 10 had a positive effect on the membrane performance. However, for high values of this ratio, both RR(Li+) and S(Li/Na) decreased. The optimal results were obtained at [Na+]F/[Li+]F near 10, where we succeeded in extracting more than 10% of the initial Li+ concentration with a selectivity value around 112 after 4 h of ED experiment at 0.5 mA·cm−2. Thus, we can objectively estimate that the concept of this selective extraction of Li+ from a mixture even when concentrated in Na+ using an ED process was validated.
... [4][5][6] Similarly, lithium production is concentrated in Australia, China, Zimbabwe, and the so-called Lithium Triangle, which includes Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile. 7,8 Since the 1990s, China has taken up a dominant position in global critical materials supply chains. [9][10][11] In 2010, it imposed an embargo on critical materials exports to Japan amidst a flare-up in tensions between the two countries over disputed islands. ...
Article
Full-text available
The energy transition is causing a surge in demand for minerals for clean energy technologies, giving rise to concerns about the sources and security of supplies of critical materials. Although Central Asia was one of the Soviet Union's main sources of metals and industrial minerals, it has been forgotten in contemporary global critical materials analyses. Here we review the Central Asian mineral resource base and assess its current and potential contributions to global supply chains. We find that the importance of Central Asia lies mainly in the diversity of its mineral base, which includes mineable reserves of most critical materials for clean energy applications. This renders the region important in mineral economics, security of supply, and geopolitical perspectives alike. In sum, Central Asia is likely to become a new hotspot for mineral extraction and a major global supplier of selected critical materials for clean energy technologies.
... Lithium is increasingly growing its strategic importance in manufacturing as it is one of the main constituents of rechargeable batteries. 1 Lithium is also extensively used in glass and ceramic manufacture, in lubricants, as a catalyst for the polymerization of plastic, and elsewhere. 2 Because of its important applications and because of its low substitution potential, 3 the United States, the European Union, Canada, Japan, and Australia consider lithium a critical resource. ...
... Very high resolution imaging of complex geological surfaces is extremely relevant for several critical raw materials such as lithium (Li), rare earth elements (REEs), tungsten and tantalum-niobium, as these are usually found in relatively small deposits up to a size of a few hundred m 2 . Lithium, for example, has become a key mineral in the energy transition towards a low-carbon future (Heredia et al., 2020). This tendency is shown by the EU Commission that changed the status of Li to 'critical' in the 2020 European commission report (EU Commission, 2020). ...
Article
Full-text available
Efficient, socially acceptable and rapid methods of exploration are required to discover new deposits and enable the green energy transition. Sustainable exploration requires a combination of innovative thinking and new technologies. Hyperspectral imaging (HSI) is a rapidly developing technology and allows for fast and systematic mineral mapping, facilitating exploration of the Earth's surface at various scales on a variety of platforms. Newly available sensors allow data capture over a wide spectral range, and provide information about the abundance and spatial location of ore and pathfinder minerals in drill-core, hand samples and outcrops with mm to cm precision. Conversely, the complex geometries of the imaged surfaces affect the spectral quality and signal-to-noise ratio (SnR) of HSI data at these very narrow spatial samplings. Additionally, the complex mineral assemblages found in hydrothermally altered ore deposits can make interpretation of spectral results a challenge. In this contribution, we propose an innovative approach that integrates multiple sensors and scales of data acquisition to help disentangle complex mineralogy associated with lithium and tin mineralisation in the Uis pegmatite complex, Namibia. We train this method using hand samples and finally produce a three-dimensional (3D) point cloud for mapping lithium mineralisation in the open pit. We were able to identify and map lithium-bearing cookeite and montebrasite at outcrop scale. The accuracy of the approach was validated by drill-core data, XRD analysis and LIBS measurements. This approach facilitates efficient mapping of complex terrains, as well as important monitoring and optimisation of ore extraction. Our method can easily be adapted to other minerals relevant to the mining industry.
... There are noteworthy differences between Argentina, Bolivia and Chile's lithium extractive regimes (Heredia et al., 2020): Bolivia has prioritised a state-led development approach towards lithium coupled with nationalisation and industrialisation; Argentina has a relatively new interest in lithium that is being pursued at the federal level; while Chile has for decades considered lithium a 'strategic resource', with mining concessions managed by the Chilean state Corporation for the Development of Production (CORFO) (Obaya and Pascuini, 2020). While recognising the significance of such differences, and highlighting the specificities of each context, this analysis has treated all three as a singular region, looking to identify discursive patterns common to lithium. ...
Article
Full-text available
The lithium extractive industry is expanding, as technological and economic shifts associated with climate change mitigation goals drive global demand for lithium-ion batteries. This article explores the case of the ‘Lithium Triangle’, a region of Latin America (spanning Bolivia, Chile and Argentina) that contains the world’s largest reserves, and where environmental conflicts associated with lithium mining have proliferated. Emphasising the centrality of discourse in resource governance, we analyse the discursive strategies employed by institutional actors seeking to promote and render acceptable lithium extraction in the region. We argue that such strategies reproduce imaginaries of prosperity and modernisation long attached to oil and mineral wealth, while at the same time introducing a novel association of mining with high-tech industries, ‘green jobs’ and ‘climate-friendly’ extraction, seeking to obscure the social and ecological costs of lithium production. This inaugurates an era of ‘green extractivism’, whereby intensive resource exploitation is framed not only as compatible with climate change, but indeed as necessary to its mitigation. Our findings contribute to ongoing conversations regarding post-fossil fuel ‘transitions’, by highlighting the contradictory character of mitigation strategies that rely on mineral-intensive development.
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Full-text available
Sodium-ion batteries (SIBs) and potassium-ion batteries (PIBs) are prospective candidates for large-scale energy storage systems cause of their abundant resources. However, unsatisfactory rate and cycling performance of carbon-based anodes present a bottleneck for the applications of SIBs/PIBs due to the large sizes of sodium/potassium ions. Herein, oxygen-doped vertically aligned carbon aerogels (VCAs) with hierarchically tailored channels are synthesized as anodes in SIBs/PIBs via a controllable unidirectional ice-templating technique. VCA-3 (cooling rate of 3 K min⁻¹) delivers the highest reversible capacity of ≈298 mAh g⁻¹ at 0.1 C with an excellent cycling performance over 2000 cycles at 0.5 C for SIBs, while VCA-5 manifests a superior capacity of ≈258 mAh g⁻¹ at 0.1 C with an 82.7% retention over 1000 cycles at 0.5 C for PIBs. Moreover, their full cells demonstrate the promising potential of VCAs in applications. This novel controllable ice-templating strategy opens unique avenues to tune the construction of hollow aligned channels for shortening ion-transport pathways and ensuring structural integrity. New insights into structure-performance correlations regulated by the cooling rates of an ice-templating strategy and design guidelines for electrodes applicable in multiple energy storage technologies are reported.
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The detrimental effects of neoliberalism accompany globalization. The paradoxes generated by the global-regional gap have revealed local cultures' double vulnerability to national and international development. Miguel Pereira fictionalizes this complex phenomenon in the film Verónico Cruz. La deuda interna (Argentina, 1988). Inspired by the autobiographical narrative of Fortunato Ramos, a rural teacher and artist, the film denounces the sociohistorical and economic inequality suffered by the Qulla culture in Jujuy. In the context of Latin American studies, rooted in Pereira's fiction, we propose a non-credit hybrid workshop in advanced Spanish for Specific Purposes (SSP) at the University of Ottawa, which was also presented at the II JEFE-Vi Conference, Vienna University of Economics and Business-WU, 2019. This 16-hour discussion group is based on Michael S. Doyle and Bruce Fryer's studies, and it implements some principles of andragogy (Knowles) and suggestopedy (Lozanov). Through the themes explored (necessity, consumer needs, the vicious circle of poverty, globalization, technology), it aims to sensitize participants to the global economic development and its impact on the fragile Qulla culture in Jujuy, Argentina. To facilitate participants' examination of social inequality, it applies the neologism minori'ethage. Students' self-assessment process is based on the entries in their learning contracts and diaries, as well as their in-class and online participation.
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  • Wilson
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UPDATE 1-China's Fulin Drops Plan to Build Battery Parts in Chile
  • Dave Sherwood
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Molymet Drops Plans for Battery Parts Factory in Chile' (Reuters, Basic Materials
  • Dave Sherwood
Dave Sherwood, 'Molymet Drops Plans for Battery Parts Factory in Chile' (Reuters, Basic Materials, July 2019) www.reuters.com/article/chile-lithium/molymet-drops-plans-for-battery-parts-factory-inchile-idUSL2N24E04T accessed 12 June 2020.
How Lithium-Rich Chile Botched a Plan to Attract Battery Makers' (Reuters
  • Dave Sherwood
Dave Sherwood, 'How Lithium-Rich Chile Botched a Plan to Attract Battery Makers' (Reuters, Technology News, July 2019) www.reuters.com/article/us-chile-lithium-focus/how-lithium-rich-chilebotched-a-plan-to-attract-battery-makers-idUSKCN1UC0C8 accessed 12 June 2020.