The global need for lithium-ion batteries is projected to grow by over 500% in the next decade, creating a soaring demand for new battery factories and key components of batteries, especially metals. Establishing sustainable battery-supply chains is an important goal. Fortunately, metals are infinitely reusable, and so billions of dollars are being poured into new battery recycling plants.
Many crystal mining operations are steeped in conflict and associated with appalling worker conditions and serious environmental degradation. Many collectors who are concerned with environmental impact and fair trade are seemingly unaware of this dark side – or perhaps they just don’t want to acknowledge it. There are alternatives.
Meeting increased demand for lithium has a dark side of potentially damaging the environment and public health – but fortunately there is also a lighter side. Recycling can reclaim valuable metals including lithium from the battery packs that might otherwise end up in landfills. Together, recovery from other industrial operations and recycling could eventually reduce the need to wrestle new metal supplies out of the ground.
The demand for lithium is increasing dramatically – and sources of this metal are being sought from the high elevations of the Andes Mountains to the lowlands of Australia. Lithium is widely distributed on our planet, but since concentrations of this metal are typically quite low, relatively few ores that are economical to mine have been found to date. There are currently three major sources.
Evidence indicating where ancient people collected the valuable pigment red ochre thousands of years ago may seem like an unlikely combination with underwater archaeology – but that isn’t the case. Sea levels have been substantially lower than at present for most of human existence, so we know that many traces of our history are hidden beneath water.
Among the high peaks of the Andes Mountains, gold-bearing quartz veins in the granitic bedrock have been exposed by erosion from ice, wind and water. Numerous ancient small gold mines are found at altitudes that cluster around an impressively high elevation of 16,000 feet.