In December 2006, William Tahil, an energy analyst, published a paper online titled "The Trouble with Lithium." His argument would be alarming to the many people who had placed their hopes for a cleaner, more prosperous economy on the rapid development of electric cars powered by lithium-ion batteries.
The trouble, he proposed, was that the world didn't contain enough economically recoverable lithium to support such a switch. Moreover, the viable pockets of lithium that did exist were concentrated in just a few countries. "If the world was to swap oil for Li-Ion based battery propulsion," he wrote, "South America would become the new Middle East. Bolivia would become far more of a focus of world attention than Saudi Arabia ever was. The USA would again become dependent on external sources of supply of a critical strategic mineral while China--home to significant lithium deposits--"would have a certain degree of self sufficiency."
All this week, the origin and continued preservation of five of our favorite standard units of measure
By Sam KeanPosted 11.04.2010 at 11:53 am 6 Comments
This week, Sam Kean takes a look at some ridiculously precise standards -- the meter, the second, and other international standard units -- and the role that elements have played in defining, redefining, and re-redefining them over the ages.
We all have an intuitive idea of what a meter or a second is, and even a candela seems pretty straightforward. The mole is different, probably the hardest metric standard to grasp at first.
How's this for spooky action at a distance? The sun, at 93 million miles away, appears to be influencing the decay of radioactive elements inside the Earth, researchers say.
Given what we know about radioactivity and solar neutrinos, this should not happen. It's so bizarre that a couple scientists at Stanford and Purdue universities believe there's a chance that a previously unknown solar particle is behind it all.
Lithium is cheap and widely available, so why do we care about a new resource in a war zone? Because it’s another counter to the irrational fear that the automobile’s lithium-powered electric future is doomed before it begins
Immediately after the New York Timespublished a report last week of the Pentagon's "discovery" of nearly $1 trillion worth of mineral reserves in Afghanistan, the backlash began. The U.S. Geological Survey released a report on the country's mineral reserves in 2007, it turned out. Why was this coming up now? The bloggers pounced. By the end of the week, the accepted wisdom was that there was nothing new in this latest piece of government spin.
Drowned in the noise, however, was a fascinating bit of news: that just this month a Pentagon team was hunting for minerals in Afghanistan's dry lakes, and that early findings suggested that one site alone might contain more lithium than Bolivia's Salar de Uyuni, which is believed to hold up to half the world's known supply.
Right now, every mining company CEO in the world has one thing on the mind: Afghanistan.
Yesterday, the Pentagon announced that American geologists have discovered an estimated $1 trillion worth of untapped geological resources there, including vast reserves of rare earth metals and lithium, which are becoming increasingly sought-after for high-tech manufacturing. The cache is large enough to have profound geopolitical implications. But judging by the state of play at another remote, developing-world mineral stash—the lithium deposits of Bolivia's Salar de Uyuni, which I recently visited—it's not easy to go from desolation to natural-resource riches. Updated.
We've already added elements 116 and 118 to the periodic table, and now a collaboration of Russian and U.S. scientists at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia, has created the superheavy element 117 that is about 40 percent heavier than lead -- for a fleeting moment, at least.
Bolivia is primarily known for two things: being the poorest country in South America, and having a president with a terrible haircut. However, it might soon be known for a third thing: lithium. Turns out Bolivia has the world's largest reserves of the light metal, and according to Foreign Policy, that positions Bolivia as the Saudi Arabia of our carbon-less, battery-powered future.
More than 10 years after Russian scientists first claimed to create atoms of Ununquadium, the unstable element in position 114 on the periodic table, scientists at Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory have confirmed their own element 114 sample. Unfortunately, the 114 atoms quickly decayed, dashing years of hope that element 114 occupied the long sought "island of stability" where super-heavy elements could exist in large quantities for long periods of time.
So it turns all those hybrid car owners who turn their environmentally conscious noses up have an unexpected caveat to their green-ness--their cars are sucking up rare earth metals at a disturbing rate.
Rare earth elements take up 17 slots on the periodic table, and are named not for their overall scarcity (they're actually quite common in trace elements throughout the Earth's core) but for the relatively uncommon minerals in which they were originally found; few rare earth elements exist in pure elemental form naturally.
When we talked with element 112's discoverer, Sigurd Hofmann, on the significance of making a permanent mark on the periodic table, he told us he wanted a moniker that recognized a famous scientist while avoiding the flag-waving nationalism normally associated with the process. Today, Hofmann and his team made their decision public.
Good bye element 112 and ununbium, its placeholder name. Hello "Copernicium."