The ADEME has published a study carried out with IFP Energies Nouvelles (IFPEN), on the dynamics of the supply and demand of lithium, based on various scenarios of electrification of the global car fleet by 2050. Lithium is a strategic metal for the production of batteries “li-ion”, used in particular in electric cars.

Our government seems only to have eyes for the vehicle to electricity. Thus, the supply of the precious metal required for the construction of their batteries, will have to increase significantly to meet future demand. To measure the impact of this change in the automotive market, the study considered several scenarios, each representing a degree of electrification different.

In all the cases considered, the study provides a park of more than 2 billion vehicles in 2050. In the BAU scenario (Business As Usual, which describes a situation of a natural evolution in the logic of the current market), we find that the thermal is always the engine casting, and accounts for two-thirds of the park. However, there is a gradual penetration of the industry’s first 100% electric, up from 19 % in 2020 and 22.6 % in 2050.

The lithium is a metal used for the production of batteries “li-ion”. Audi

using the model imposed by the public authorities, aimed at the total disappearance of the thermal engines (petrol and diesel) on the market after 2040, it is observed that the mix of powerplants following: 12,3 % pure electric, 77,9 % of hybrids, up 8.6% from biofuels and 1.2 % of gas. For the 2 scenarios with the goals of CO2 emissions reduction, very ambitious, thermal vehicles are gradually being withdrawn from circulation until reaching respectively 9 % and 3 % of the park, so that the electric cars follow an inverse trend (67 % and 71 % of the world).

The total demand for lithium to 2050 is estimated to be over 14 million tons. In respect of the BAU scenario, not to worry: the margin between the demand and the reserves of lithium is 65 %. On the other hand, in the case of a rush of the electric vehicle due to grants (imagined) covering 20 % of the purchase price of the car, the margin is only 8%!

China, which has implemented a policy of security of supply, will have competitive advantages and can foster its domestic market to the detriment of importing countries. The evolution of the trade policy of China will thus become an essential parameter of the market of lithium. In addition, if the price of lithium has little influence on the price of the batteries, other components may instead explode (cobalt for example).

These materials are sometimes produced in adverse conditions (65 % of the production of cobalt is located in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a country that is highly unstable), and their extraction is usually not without consequences for the environment.

After you have analyzed the study of the ADEME, a bunch of technological solutions seems to be more appropriate for the automotive market, as a rush to the electric car could lead to a shortage of lithium, as well as vulnerabilities, geopolitical and environmental. But, in the most plausible scenarios proposed by the study, the balance appears to be necessary.

The supply of lithium, required for the construction of accumulators, will have to increase significantly to meet future demand. Matthias Rietschel/REUTERS

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