Researchers at KIT in Karlsruhe are investigating how Europe can extract more lithium for batteries to become climate neutral. Europe produces only 1% of the world’s lithium, but geothermal energy could help.
In Germany, geothermal power plants in the Upper Rhine Graben and North German Basin could supply 2-12% of the annual lithium demand. The lithium is extracted from thermal water found in rock fissures.
The amount depends on the amount of water that can be extracted through drilling. Long-term lithium extraction from thermal water is possible because the water is constantly renewed.
This could contribute to sustainable energy production and cover part of the lithium demand. Researchers are also working on technologies to put this idea into practice.
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Why is lithium important?
Lithium is important because it is used in batteries for electric vehicles and renewable energy storage, which helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is hard to find because global lithium production is limited and demand has increased sharply, especially for electric vehicles and renewable energy.
The extraction of lithium brings with it various problems and challenges:
- Environmental impacts: Lithium mining can have environmental impacts, especially if it takes place in sensitive ecosystems. The chemicals used in some lithium mining processes can pollute the environment and groundwater.
- Water resources: Lithium production requires significant amounts of water, which can cause problems in water-scarce regions. This can lead to conflicts over water resources.
- Social impacts: Lithium mining can affect local communities and indigenous peoples by disrupting their land use and livelihoods.
- Market concentration: Much of the world’s lithium production is dominated by a few countries, which leads to market concentration and can affect security of supply.
- Technological challenges: Lithium extraction from geothermal or other unconventional sources requires advanced technologies and research to develop efficient and environmentally friendly methods.
- Price fluctuations: The lithium price can be subject to strong fluctuations, which makes investments in lithium production uncertain.
The sustainable extraction of lithium requires the consideration of all these factors and the development of environmentally friendly and socially acceptable methods.