1 Sep 21

Afghanistan’s recapture and what it means for EV batteries

Lithium, the “white gold” of EV battery manufacturing - favoured for being lightweight and robust in energy storage - is said to be plentiful in Afghanistan. But now the West is no longer in charge, where will it come from?

In 2010, US military officials and geologists revealed the extent of Afghanistan’s mineral deposits, valued at between $1 trillion and $3 trillion. But since the recapture of Kabul by the Taliban, it’s unlikely the West will be invited to trade talks anytime soon.

China, Pakistan and India, however, have already made public their support for building relationships with Afghan’s new rulers. China has even offered to support economic regeneration projects.

Although it may be the largest producer of electric vehicles in the world, China lacks the vital minerals needed to bolster its modern industrial revolution. It has, however, acquired 55% of the world’s Lithium supply through early investments in mining operations in Australia, Africa, and Latin America.

Opening up the DRC to Lithium mining

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is another primary source for Lithium but as yet there are no known commercially viable Lithium mines there. The IEA estimates it takes 16 years from the discovery of a mineral for a mine to begin production. Since most countries are trying to get EVs on the roads and ban ICE vehicles by 2030, that’s a problem.

And it’s not the only one, warns Dr Martyn Davies, managing director of Emerging Markets & Africa at Deloitte. He says that the DRC, like other countries in one of the poorest continents in the world, is a challenging place to run a well-governed company:

“Any extractive industry in this part of the world is susceptible to nefarious groups, political actors and unprincipled forces. We’ve seen this recently in Mozambique and Zimbabwe and the DRC is certainly at risk.”

The need for sustainable mining practices

Lithium is mined in two ways: from rock deposits and brine extraction from salt flats. Brine extraction takes up to 18 months and requires 500,000 gallons of water per ton of Lithium extracted. This process has been known to negatively affect agricultural activities in local areas and cause contamination of water supplies, which impacts local and indigenous communities.

Research into direct Lithium extraction (DLE), a process of extracting Lithium from brine water without the necessity of evaporation pools, shows promise. It preserves over 98% of the water and stops contaminants leaching into local water supplies.

Environmental considerations are not the whole story. There are many areas in the DRC where Lithium could be mined where there’s no infrastructure at all. That means nowhere for workers to live, no healthcare, transport, education or security – no government support.

Any company wanting to exploit the DRC’s mineral resources through mining, Davies states, must be prepared to invest in taking care of these basic needs to avoid unscrupulous forces.

Image of Dr Martyn Davies by Creamer Media

Authored by: Alison Pittaway