Taliban Are Now The Saudi Arabia of Lithium: What Does That Mean for EV Manufacturing?

Afghan lithium stores 6 photos
Photo: Oak Ridge National Laboratory
As the Taliban stormed into Kabul and seized control of the country, they brought chaos with them but also took over unfettered access to enormous deposits of minerals critical to the hopes for a better global energy future.
More than a decade ago the U.S. Department of Defense wrote that Afganistan was poised to become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium.” That determination came on the heels of the opinion of American geologists that the Afghans were sitting atop a storehouse of mineral deposits worth $1 trillion - at a minimum. Among those resources is lithium, which it happens to be major component in the manufacturing of electric vehicle batteries used to power motorcycles and cars.

But over the course of the ten years since the discovery, the stocks of lithium remain mostly untouched and untapped. While the U.S. and the rest of the developed world search for alternatives to supply chains from China (the prime lithium producer worldwide), the loss of access to Afghanistan’s supplies to the Taliban is likely to impact the economic interests of manufacturers.

One thing is certain; demand for lithium will only grow. The International Energy Agency says the need for lithium will rise by a factor of 40 between now and 2040. Afghanistan is also the site of huge stores of other in-demand rare earth elements such as copper, cobalt and others, which are in relatively short supply.

A typical battery cell contains a couple of grams of lithium, about a half teaspoon for comparison, but a standard EV-capable battery can include approximately 5,000 battery cells. Taking those amounts as a baseline, creating the batteries for a single EV requires about 10 kilograms - or 22 pounds - of lithium in total. On a larger scale, a full ton of lithium is needed to make perhaps 90 electric cars or trucks.

While it’s still uncertain how much the loss of the potential stores of Afghan lithium will affect markets, it’s sure to add headaches and uncertainty to the production of EV vehicles in the long-term future.
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