231-922-9460 | Google +

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Afghanistan's Mineral Riches: It's about the Batteries

CTV News

As first reported in the New York Times, a team of Pentagon officials and U.S. geologists have identified nearly $1 trillion worth of mineral deposits in Afghanistan.

The most alluring of these are vast deposits of lithium that transfer the title of "the Saudi Arabia of lithium" away from Chile, where the Salar de Atacama was thought to contain 27 per cent of the world's known deposits of the mineral, and place it squarely on Afghanistan.

Why is lithium so important? Because it is the key material in the manufacture of the rechargeable batteries that power your Apple iPad, Research In Motion BlackBerry, insulin pump, Amazon Kindle, Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf.

But what if the world is approaching a glut of batteries? As part of the 2009 stimulus package, the Feds handed out $2 billion to manufacturers of batteries for "green" cars. By 2015 the factories will have the capacity to produce enough batteries for 15 million hybrids, or 1.5 million fully electric car batteries. The only way there will be enough buyers for all those cars is if oil prices soar and battery prices plunge.

Which might happen as improvements continue to be made to the traditional lithium-ion battery by researchers like A123's Yet-Ming Chiang and the team at IBM's Battery 500 Project, which hopes to use lithium-air to push a family of four 500 miles on one charge.

Aside from cost and weight, there's also a danger associated with lithium-ion batteries that might increase their costs even as the cost of production falls: transportation. The U.S. Department of Transportation is looking to enact a new rule that would classify the batteries as hazardous materials. If that rule doesn't pass, House Transportation Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar (D–Minn.) would impose similar restrictions.