An atom is about 99.999 percent open space. The mass of it is in the nucleus and the different levels of electrons are considered of insignificant mass. There is something mystical about this scientific fact, but I have been asked not to go there, so I won’t.
A lithium battery has four major components: anode, cathode, electrolyte and separator.
The anode is made of graphite and is the electrode that takes the lithium ions from the electrolyte and intercalates it into the material along with the electrons from the circuit. The anode is not expensive.
The cathode is the electrode that contains the lithium combined with oxygen to stabilize it in the form of lithium oxide. The capacity of the battery is determined by the amount of lithium in the cathode. The cathode is the most expensive part of the battery.
The electrolyte is the medium through which the lithium ions pass and it is made from lithium salts, solvents and additives. It has the ability to reject the electrons from the outermost and most loosely attached lithium electrons and divert them through the circuit so they can do useful work (power motors and electronic devices).
The separator is the part that keeps the electrodes from touching each other and provides the lattice work that provides the pathways for the lithium ions to pass through.
During the charging process, the lithium ions are moved through the electrolyte and separator to the anode where they combine with the electrons from the charging circuit to form lithium on the anode. During the discharge process (providing useful work) the electrons move through the circuit and combine with the lithium ions on the cathode to make lithium there.
Lithium is estimated to make up about .002 percent of the earth’s crust. It is not abundant, but it is not that rare. The industry often times disposes of lithium batteries by burning them rather than recycling. Recycling is considered too expensive and is estimated to happen only 20 percent of the time.
Volcanic rock contains a mineral called pegmatite and one of the elements in it is lithium. Lithium has an affinity for water and is leached out over a period of time by water seeping through the layers and settling beneath the ground in the form of brine or is trapped in clay. The three was of obtaining lithium are traditional mining of the volcanic rock, pumping the brine into large pools and allowing the water to evaporate the water out and add chemicals to precipitate salts, or mining the clay. All of these methods have negative environmental impacts but the brine method is the cheapest.
It is possible that the western United States may provide an abundance of lithium rich clay. A shallow pool of magma feeds the Yellowstone super volcano but the plates there have been gradually moving south west and dragging the magma into creators which over the the period of 16 million years have filled with water and then formed lithium bearing clay.
Lithium batteries are efficient, charge relatively quick, and are energy dense for their weight but maybe we could be happy living simpler lives with more quality dialog and the security that comes from wisdom and not need so much convenience.