If electric vehicles or their analogous plug-in-electric hybrid vehicles (PHEV) are to become widespread in the face of a lack of cheap oil, some source of battery technology will be necessary to carry the charge to run them. I wrote an article a couple of years ago  in which I concluded there was insufficient lithium to fabricate an equivalent of 500 million cars, as was then estimated to be on the roads worldwide, by PHEV's. This was based on the assumption that the world stock of lithium was around 5 million tonnes and that it would take 9 million tonnes to make 500 million PHEV's. For all-electric cars, the situation is worse since they each take four times the amount of lithium that a PHEV would. I did also refer to other kinds of battery technology which use materials that are known to be more abundant.
amount of lithium in the world has now been called into question, and
one analyst thinks there is much more of it available , mostly based
in Chile's Atacama desert, amounting to an economically recoverable
total of 28.4 million tonnes. Clearly that would be plenty: enough for
1.58 billion PHEV cars or
almost 400 million fully electric vehicles, so the physical amount of
lithium is not a problem. There are also sources of lithium in the
Andes and in Tibet, along with hectorite (a lithium containing clay)
and oil-field brines that contain lithium, albeit more expensive to
extract than the mountain-sources, and the material should be
recycleable, so for example a direct comparison with the oil the
technology is intended to replace is not strictly justified.
issue is not without contention, however, since another author 
concludes there are 6.2 million tonnes in reserves of lithium and its
reserve base is 13.4 million tonnes.
In my opinion, if all
sources of lithium are worked-out there is probably enough of it to go
round to make 600 million cars, as there are now. It should be noted
that there is an increasing demand for the metal to go into laptop
computers and mobile phones, and it is anyone's guess what that total
demand might amount to.
However, the latter devices are made out
of oil too, and with current roaring prices which I do not expect to
fall, along with a near and eventual shortage of oil, I see another
limiting factor - raw materials to make plastics from and the lack of
money in people's pockets rather than of lithium.
60 million new
cars are put on the roads each year and if they were made as PHEV's
which might take 18 kg of lithium each, we would need an annual
production of 1.08 million tonnes of it. This is around 54 times the
present output of lithium (20,000 tonnes), and so that is the increase in production
capacity (mining and processing) that would need to be installed - a
considerable and probably impossible task. If it could be done, we would be "there" within 10
years. However, will there be enough energy to do the job, and what
will these cars actually cost by then?
Given that I see financial
distress for many in the West, the car may well be seen as a luxury and
by default, we will set-aside our travelling lifestyles in the
difficult oil dearth years ahead of us. We don't have 10 years in which
to begin reducing oil consumption: we need to do that now. If only we
had begun 10 years ago we would have saved massive amounts of oil, and
be facing-off a future gap in the supply/demand conundrum, with time in
hand. We didn't though, but permitted the market-forces to prevail.
potential strife is that some kinds of lithium battery contain a
phosphate component and I have discussed recently that there are likely
to be problems with mining a finite source of rock phosphate which is
mainly used for agriculture. As a rough estimate, assuming one
phosphate anion per lithium cation in a lithium-iron-phosphate battery
(the strongest contender for EV's) 600 million cars would need around
148 million tonnes of phosphate or about 15 million tonnes a year
assuming we could equal the world annual total of 60 million new cars
annually. That is to be compared with the total phosphate mined for
food production of about 140 million tonnes, and so we would need to
sacrifice a good 10% of that, while a hungry population rises.
isn't going to happen, and to conclude once more, car use will be
curbed by a combination of factors, with all that implies for
 "Electric Vehicles and World Lithium Supply," By Chris Rhodes. http://ergobalance.blogspot.com/2006/10/electric-vehicles-and-world-lithium.html
 "Peak Lithium." By Bill Moore. http://www.evworld.com/article.cfm?archive=1&storyid=1180&first=3171&end=3170
 "The Trouble with Lithium." ByWilliam Tahil. http://www.evworld.com/library/lithium_shortage.pdf
World Lithium Supplies and Electric Vehicles.
3 Jun, 2008 10:58 am
In the potential conversion of the world's road fleet from oil-based fuel to electric or PHEV type transport, it is not the amount of lithium in total that is likely to be the problem but the rate of recovery of it. To match the present 60 million number of new cars on the roads each year, this would need to be expanded by fifty-fold, a considerable undertaking in mining and production which is probably impossible. Electric cars are likely to become a rich-man's luxury, while the level of transportation per se inevitably and vastly declines.