Martin Alipaz / epa / Corbis - TIME
For several years now, electric vehicle advocates have been pushing lithium ion batteries as the solution to the issues of global warming and fossil fuel use. Unfortunately, just as petroleum is a finite resource with the most abundant supplies being restricted to certain geographic areas, the same is true of lithium. A substantial proportion of the world's known supplies of lithium carbonate are located in the central Andean region of South America, with the largest deposits in Bolivia and, to a lesser degree, Chile. For an impoverished country like Bolivia, this has the potential to bring the same kind of bounty that Saudi Arabia got in the second half of the last century.
Unfortunately, for the rest of the world that's hoping to use all that lithium, having a dominant player means that the cost of lithium batteries is unlikely to drop significantly any time soon even if production is ramped up. Bolivia's leftist president Evo Morales wants a state-dominated lithium industry in order to ensure that the profits benefit the people of his country. As a result, some automakers are attempting to go directly to the Bolivian government to ensure adequate supplies. That would explain why most of the major automakers are tying up with battery makers in order to keep the technology in house rather than rely on suppliers. Regardless of who controls the supply of lithium, there remain concerns that demand could outstrip supply within a decade. if that happens, we'll have to continue the search for other alternatives anyway.