In 1975 the United States Geological Survey convened a symposium in Golden, Colorado, on lithium demand and resources prompted by the premise that lithium resources would be inadequate to meet future demand in fusion power generation (expected from the Year 2000 onward!) and in load leveling storage batteries. Demand estimates were astronomic and in the light of these projections the availability of adequate reserves was seriously questioned. In the introduction to the symposium reference was made to the “gravity” of the impending shortage of lithium. (Anon 1976)
Fortunately, shortly afterwards, at the request of the United States Energy Research and Development Administration, the National Academy of Sciences and Engineering formed a National Research Council Committee on Nuclear and Alternative Energy Systems (CONEAS) to report on the role of nuclear power in the context of alternative energy systems in the time period 1985 to 2010. CONEAS was organized into four main panels and twenty-six sub panels and the Lithium Sub Panel was one of these asked to report on raw material availability.
This group was chaired by Dr. Thomas Kesler, formerly with the USGS and the leading authority on the North Carolina tin-spodumene belt the, then, dominant source of lithium, Dr. James Vine of the USGS and the head of its Lithium Resource Appraisal Group, Dr. Ihor Kunasz of the Foote Mineral Company and the writer representing Lithium Corporation of America. The panel reported in 1976 (Evans, 1978) and some of the figures used in this current paper are based on that report.
The tonnage estimated in the panel report of 10.65 million tonnes of Li was in respect of the Western World as little data were available in respect of Russia and China.
In 1985, fresh concerns about lithium availability arose from a different group of researchers and aluminium producers when it seemed a possibility that lithium-aluminium alloys for aircraft would create a major demand and the writer produced an updated report based on new discoveries in the preceding ten years (Evans 1986).
Additions to the 1978 paper included the estimated reserves in the Greenbushes spodumene pegmatite in Western Australia, the brines of the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, the lithium in geothermal brines in Southern California and the lithium contained in hectorite deposits in the Western USA.
Recently, concern has again been expressed about lithium availability (Tahil, 2007) because of the potential very large scale use of lithium carbonate, in particular, in lithium-ion batteries in hybrid and all-electric motor vehicles and this has precipitated the preparation of this report.