Batteries — Our New Foreign Dependence

April 22, 2009

Maybe the welfare of the world is our business.

I have a lithium battery in my cell phone, my ipod, my computer, my games, and maybe soon powering my car.

Electrical power is seen as one of the viable alternatives to fossil fuels, and yet, right now the best technology to support that is the lithium battery.

But where do these come from? Well, China, of course. But where do the actual components come from? That is an even more confusing and scary answer.

Lithium is mined in the US and South America. More than half the world’s lithium is buried in a desert in Bolivia. So part of our bet to reduce foreign dependence on oil makes us dependent on Bolivia, for one.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/moslive/article-1166387/In-search-Lithium-The-battle-3rd-element.html

More disturbing is another key component of lithium batteries and that is cobalt. Most of the world’s cobalt comes from – well, you guessed it – Congo. And if I’m not mistaken, Congo has been in the news recently because it is a tad unstable and MILLIONS of people have died there in civil wars over the last decade. It is interesting to see how control and ownership of these mines carries on behind the scenes in the world of big business. This article talks about the recent acquisition of the largest underground copper mine in the Congo by the Swiss mining giant Glencore International.

http://paguntaka.org/2009/01/13/glencore-wins-control-underground-copper-mine-in-congo/

“Geopolitical risk is embedded into Glencore’s business,” said Henri Alexaline, a credit analyst at BNP Paribas SA in London.

And taking 30,000 tons of cobalt a year out of Congo makes Glencore a big player in the electric vehicle industry.

Let’s think about that risk for a minute. Didn’t we just get through with another round of “war for oil”? Continued dependency on foreign resources, especially in regions like Congo where our influence is questionable, could result in more expeditions in the name of national security. Don’t forget, unlike lithium, cobalt has MANY uses in the US to include military and medical.

Here is an interesting article about the chemistry of conflict, or is that the conflict of chemistry.

http://www.geocities.com/rodneys_geology/Congo-Coltan.html

So where does that lead us? Fighting over resources isn’t new. The fate of Congo may become near and dear to our hearts. The politics of Bolivia may suddenly swerve into view for the US and Europe. But at the core of this is that we are truly interconnected with the world, no matter where we go for our energy. The only way to avoid that is to build newer and better energy cells that we can build wholly at home. And while that would be a great nationalistic goal, it isn’t really practical. Maybe we need to better understand what a small world this really is, and how much we depend, or should depend on each other.

@antipov

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cobalt
http://www.notmytribe.com/2008/congo-cobalt-copper-coltan-2-8704.html

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