Lithium’s Rise Is Not the Same As Oil’s Rise 100 Years Ago

From Peter Tertzakian at Financial Post:

Lithium is considered to be the new oil. It will power the batteries of electric vehicles, the type of car expected to grow orders of magnitude higher in the coming decades.

There is one problem, however, and that is the upstream market. 100 years ago, at the start of the auto market, there were already two global suppliers of oil (Standard Oil and Royal Dutch Shell) that had spent 50 years developing its global infrastructure. These companies had already been meeting demand for oil-powered combustion engines in much larger machinery like ships, locomotives, and farm equipment. Meeting demand for an even smaller machine like a car was not such a tall task.

Compare this to the current demands for lithium: batteries, smartphones, power tools, and lawn mowers. The amount of lithium needed for a car battery is going to be multiple times greater per unit than what has been asked in the past.

The question becomes can suppliers of resources like lithium, cobalt, and graphite (the other elements needed for a rechargeable battery) extract what is required at the rapid rate demanded? It would be prudent to be skeptical. Extracting resources from the earth takes time, money, intricate supply chain and logistics networks, and tend to operate in dysfunctional, corrupt regions of the world (e.g., 60% of global cobalt supply is located in Congo). It will be worth following to see if this constraint impedes adoption of electric vehicles on a mass scale in the coming years.