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What is lithium and why does it matter today?
The need for ecological transition of our economic activities has never been more critical.i The 2021 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report concluded that it is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land, and that human-induced climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe.ii

Enter lithium, making up around 0.0007% of the earth's crust, the ultra-light metal was discovered in 1817 by the Brazillian Johnann August Arfvedson on the Swedish Island of Utö. Over the following 200 years, the element would become an important ingredient in many of the goods we rely on. It is used to make certain glass and ceramics and can be alloyed with other metals for aircraft manufacture. The element is also used in some medicines to treat manic depression, according to the IEA.

Lithium’s bespoke applications mean the element was previously little consumed by global industries. Since demand for clean energy technologies has begun to grow, so too has demand for lithium, largely because of its current role in batteries for electric vehicles, consumer electronics and energy storage systems. Demand for lithium is growing faster than any other mineral.1
Lithium is most often found in two forms here on earth, as a brine (lithium-enriched groundwater) or within hard-rock pegmatites that contain a lithium-bearing mineral known as spodumene. The Manono deposit in DR Congo is a hard rock spodumene lithium resource.2  

If electric vehicles and other battery technologies continue on their current trajectory, demand for lithium is expected to rise in the medium term.3 Geologists and mining experts we interviewed described the lithium “rush” globally, to develop new mines in order to extract enough lithium resources, and of good enough quality, to meet this demand.4 One mining expert noted that in his 60-year career as a mine planner and evaluator, he has never seen a mineral rush like this one, which he felt was akin to the 1800s gold rush in the American west.

As countries rush to secure supply chains and their access to lithium resources, market and growth-driven narratives on how to transition away from fossil fuels prevail. The transition poses real dangers of exaggerating existing inequalities and bringing in a new wave of environmental destruction to create vast amounts of ‘green’ infrastructure and consumables.  

There is a growing movement of people who are calling for an environmentally conscious redistribution of resources, circular economies and reduced consumption. This research is a contribution towards that thinking.
1 IEA, The Role of Critical Minerals in Clean Energy Transitions, May 2021 and revised Mar 2022, available at, 140

2 interview, two EU-based geologists . See also AVZ literature available at

3 Fastmarkets, Supply-demand dynamics and key trends in the lithium market with Corinne Blanchard, Deutsche Bank, August 2022, available at; IEA, The Role of Critical Minerals in Clean Energy Transitions, May 2021 and revised Mar 2022, available at, 139

4 Interviews with a US and a UK based geologist with lithium expertise, a lithium mining inspector and an academic writing on lithium extraction in South America.
i Guillaume Pitron, The Rare Metals War: the dark side of clean energy and digital technologies, p. xi Foreword by Hubert Védrine.
ii Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 9 August 2021, Sixth Assessment Report, Headline Statements from the Summary for Policymakers, available at:
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