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We'll need a 20x increase in lithium for energy transition

Illustration of a mining cart full of batteries.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Breakneck demand for batteries in everything from EVs to grid-scale storage will require a huge increase in lithium mining by 2050.

Why it matters: Mines take a long time to bring online, especially in the U.S.

Driving the news: "The world will need more than twenty times the amount of lithium than was mined last year to meet demand by mid-century," Benchmark Mineral Intelligence reported in a note last week.

  • Energy storage to support intermittent renewable assets like wind and solar will drive two-thirds of the demand.
  • The other big driver: electric vehicles.

Context: Opening a new mine in the U.S. can take more than a decade, in part due to permitting challenges.

Yes, but: Elon Musk may have declared this summer that supplying lithium is a "license to print money" — but that's far from clear.

  • A range of startups are racing ahead with new technologies aimed at reducing or wholly displacing lithium.
  • Meanwhile, lithium mines are in remote locations, the mining process demands expertise, and the logistics of bringing it to market are filled with hurdles.

Of note: Major automakers such as Ford and GM have already made major investments to lock down their lithium supply chains.

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