To build a battery you have four basic overarching battery components including the casing, chemistry, electrolyte, and the internal specialized hardware. At the core of these four basic overarching battery components are the foundation blocks; the raw materials necessary for the construction of a battery. Minerals and materials used in the construction of batteries are numerous but the core mineral required to have a battery is the batteries chemical which can either be : cadmium, cobalt, lead, lithium, and nickel (along with other rare earth elements). Why is the chemical one of the most important element in a battery: because a battery at its most basic element is a system that converts and stores electrochemical energy for the purpose of providing portable power to a device. Without the chemistry changing chemical energy into electrical energy is impossible. So needless to say the availability of minerals used in batteries are highly important!
Incidentally the available raw material supply and price often times dictates how much your battery is going to be – if the raw material price is higher, than, your battery cost will be higher (the converse of that is also true). But what are the current supplies of the battery making minerals and how much demand is out there for these minerals?
In the United States there are currently 6,841 different mining operations ranging from aluminum to zircon. Although 6,841 mines sounds like a lot of mining operations you must evaluate that number against the total demand of minerals. Consider that every American born in 2007 is estimated to use the following amounts of nonfuel mineral commodities over their lifetime (data pulled from MII):
- Aluminum (bauxite) 5,677 pounds
- Cement 65,480 pounds
- Clays 19,245 pounds
- Copper 1,309 pounds
- Gold 1,576 ounces
- Iron ore 29,608 pounds
- Lead 928 pounds
- Phosphate rock 19,815 pounds
- Stone, sand, and gravel 1.61 million pounds
- Zinc 671 pounds
Now consider that there were 4,315,000 babies born in 2007 (U.S. Census Bureau). So when you start multiplying the amounts of estimated use of each of the minerals you can quickly see 6,841 mines is not really a whole lot!
Lithium, Cadmium, Cobalt, Nickel By The Numbers
Chile was the leading lithium chemical producer in the world with Argentina, China, and the United States as additional major producers. The United States remained the leading consumer of lithium minerals and compounds and the leading producer of value-added lithium materials. Incidentally only one company produced lithium compounds in the U.S. and that is at the Silver Peak Mine in Nevada run by the Chemetall Foote Corporation. Lithium is used not only in batteries but also in ceramics and glass, lubricating greases, pharmaceuticals and polymers, air conditioning, primary aluminum production, continuous casting, chemical processing and other uses. In terms of annual quantity of lithium the USGS estimates that in the U.S in 2005 5,000,000 pounds of lithium was used in rechargeable batteries.
In terms of annual quantity of cadmium the USGS estimates that in the U.S in 2005 1,312,000 pounds of cadmium was used in rechargeable batteries.
In terms of annual quantity of cobalt (cobalt is used primarily for the battery’s electrodes) the USGS estimates that in the U.S in 2005 23,800,000 pounds of cobalt was used in rechargeable batteries.
In terms of annual quantity of nickel the USGS estimates that in the U.S in 2005 426,000,000 pounds of nickel was used in rechargeable batteries.
How Much Demand is there for these Minerals?
In 2002 it is estimated that 350 million batteries were purchased in the U.S. So if you assume that the past 7 years have been fairly consistent then you could assume that 2.4 Billion batteries were bought and in use and will eventually need to be recycled and replaced. This means that an ever increasing demand for minerals will be placed on the mines of the earth.
Thankfully there is enough available minerals and metals to be extracted from mines that at least for the time being we do not have to be overly concerned, but, indeed there will come a point decades down the road, that this will not always be true.
Until next time, Dan Hagopian – www.batteryship.com
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