Lithium is a rare-earth mineral used in electric vehicle batteries. There are an estimated 30-50 million metric tons in the world, enough for 2-4 billion cars (at 25 pounds of lithium per vehicle). Over half of the reserves are in the “lithium triangle” in South America in the Olaroz salt flats, shared by Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina. There are presently 1.5 billion cars in the world. Lithium reserves are estimated to last until 2050. The price of lithium has doubled in the first three months of 2021. Lithium is extracted using a brine process, making the water unusable thereafter. Given the limited water resources in the world, this greatly complicates access to available lithium reserves.
Cobalt is another rare mineral used in batteries. Sixty percent the world’s reserves of cobalt are in Congo, a very unstable nation (causing dramatic shifts in the price of cobalt). The estimated reserves of cobalt are 7 million metric tons. Researchers at MIT estimate the demand will outpace the supply of cobalt within ten years. Cobalt is used in all batteries, although its use in electric vehicle batteries is decreasing (driven by market forces and the price of cobalt, whose price has almost doubled in the first three months of 2021). Both lithium and cobalt can be recycled.
Freshwater is another limited resource worldwide, so much so that “water is the new oil.” California has such limited supplies of freshwater that they now ration tap water to all households. An extensive, long-term drought in the western U.S. has many other states looking to follow suit. Evaporation of water is the driving force behind all commercial air conditioning systems (via evaporative cooling) and many industrial processes. Global warming is sure to further exacerbate the demand for freshwater, especially in the many equatorial nations that are already water-scarce. Seventeen nations, home to 25% of the world’s population, already face extreme water stress. A map at that link indicates most of these areas are close to the equator. A total of 70 nations has high baseline water stress.