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PHEV'09 -- Is there enough lithium for everyone?

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Montreal – What do the Chevrolet Volt, Toyota Prius Plug-In and Nissan Leaf have in common? They all use an electric motor powered by a lithium-ion battery (Li-ion). Mitsubishi, Ford and even Chrysler are just a few other manufacturers that are also using this technology for their latest plug-in hybrid (PH) or electric vehicles (EV) -- either recently or soon to be released.

Chevrolet Volt

The future of the automobile is inevitably linked to lithium. The question now is: will global supplies of this mineral meet the increasing demand through the next decade?

Kerry Knoll, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Canada Lithium Corporation, raised that exact question during PHEV’09, an international conference and trade show that turns the spotlight on plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles. The event runs from September 28 to 30 in Montreal.

The benefits of lithium
There are different types of lithium batteries. The most widely known is the Li-ion type, which can be charged. Also, compared with a nickel-metal hydride battery (NiMH), the charge density is reportedly three times higher while the battery itself weighs three times less. The benefits of lithium are even greater when compared with a lead-acid battery.

Understandably, automakers have chosen Li-ion for their future PH and EV models. Toyota, a world leader in hybrid vehicles, already announced that NiMH batteries currently used in the Prius will be replaced by Li-ion units in the upcoming plug-in variant.

Now, consider that Toyota plans to increase its hybrid production to one million units per year and that both Nissan and Mitsubishi have just introduced their first electric car on the market (the i-MiEV and Leaf, respectively), and you’ll get an idea of how important lithium is quickly becoming.

The hard facts on lithium
Lithium is available in large amounts across the globe. In fact, Mr. Knoll confidently stated: "With what we know today, we have got 370 years of reserve. If every car in the world sold going forward had lithium batteries in it, we would still probably have around 100 years of reserve. So there is no shortage of lithium!"

Nissan Leaf