Batteries are made of rare, declining, critical, and imported elements

Preface.  Since oil and other fossils are finite and emit carbon, the plan is to electrify society with batteries.  But doh!  Minerals used in batteries are finite too.  And dependent on fossil-fueled transportation and manufacturing from mining trucks, to smelter, to fabrication, to delivery.

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer, Barriers to Making Algal Biofuels, and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Collapse Chronicles, Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report


Batteries use many rare, declining, single-source country, and expensive metals.  They consume more energy over their life cycle, from extraction to discharging stored energy, than they deliver.  Batteries are an energy sink with negative EROI, which makes wind, solar, and other intermittent sources of electricity energy sinks as well.

Minerals used to make batteries are subject to supply chain failures (stockpiles will eventually run out).

Depletion Peaks, Including Recycling, for Battery Minerals

Peak Year

There are four main components to a battery: the casing, chemicals, electrolytes, and internal hardware.  The main minerals used are cadmium, cobalt, lead, lithium, nickel, and rare earth elements.

The U.S. has a list of 35 critical elements essential for defense and other industires

Antimony (critical). 29% of antimony in the USA is used for batteries (35% flame retardants, 16% chemicals, 12% ceramics and glass, etc).

Arsenic (critical): the grids in lead acid storage batteries are strengthened by the addition of arsenic metal

Cadmium: Nickel-Cadmium (NiCd) batteries.  It’s also used in photovoltaic devices. China uses it in the lead-acid batteries used by electric bicycles. In 2005 1,312,000 pounds of cadmium were used in rechargeable batteries.

Cobalt (critical): 23,800,000 pounds of cobalt were used in rechargeable batteries (2005).

Graphite (critical).

Lead-acid batteries. These consume 86% of lead production. In just the first 8 months of 2012, 81,700,000 lead-acid automotive batteries were produced.

Lithium-ion batteries.  This article makes the case for lithium shortages coming soon “Back to Land Lines? Cell Phones May Be Dead by 2015

Manganese (critical): dry cell batteries

Nickel: 426,000,000 pounds used in rechargeable batteries (2005) with peak production in sight, this will also affect stainless steel


Rare Earth Elements (lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, promethium, samarium, europium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, thulium ytterbium and lutetium)

Zinc: dry cell batteries


Mineral Commodity Summaries 2013. U.S. Dept of the interior, USGS.

Do we take minerals for granted? USGS.

19 March 2010. L. David Roper. Depletion of Minerals for Batteries.

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7 Responses to Batteries are made of rare, declining, critical, and imported elements

  1. Jon Wesenberg says:

    There are some new battery chemistries being developed which don’t use non-abundant elements, such as Natron’s sodium/Prussian blue cell ,
    but any effort to fully electrify the economy is going to run into materials depletion limits and limits on energy used to extract/smelt/process/manufacture everything else in that supply chain. We may be able to delay the end of this civilization’s high energy consumption, but multiple limits will prevent us from escaping it.

  2. James Charles says:

    I came across this:
    “TOKYO — A trip of 500 km on one charge. A recharge from zero to full in 10 minutes. All with minimal safety concerns. The solid-state battery being introduced by Toyota promises to be a game changer not just for electric vehicles but for an entire industry. “

    • energyskeptic says:

      It’s a press release, a fantasy, hopium, and if you do a search in google on battery breakthrough, you get 19,600,000 results. Why would you or I believe this one? and it isn’t from a university or scientific journal.

      • Jon Wesenberg says:

        Solid state batteries are just starting to enter the market, although most of them are still quite small. I wouldn’t write them off. What is truly absurd about receiving a full charge in 10 minutes is the expectation that the grid and its generators will be able to handle millions of random 100kW loads while these cars are charging – especially in post-nuke Japan. This would wreak havoc with any attempt at load leveling and management, unless done at night while most people are asleep. I seriously doubt there will be a massive grid buildout to accommodate so many huge peak loads in most regions. If electric cars are going to be remotely practical, they will largely have to be plugged in at night to prevent overloading the grid. Daytime chargers under smart control in areas with lots of wind and/or solar might work, but users might be disappointed if they don’t get a charge during unfavorable weather (cloudy/calm/heavy air conditioning use).

        • energyskeptic says:

          Who cares about electric cars? Without trucks civilization collapses within a month or less, as my book “When Trucks Stop Running” explains. The laws of physics prevent batteries from ever approaching the energy density of diesel fuel, they will forever be 50 times or more less energy dense and therefore too heavy to move trucks, which have fantastic ton miles per gallon. And how would we grow food with an electric tractor? too heavy to do anything but sink into the soil, and the grid is too thin in farm regions to charge millions of batteries in the very short planting and harvest seasons. See the posts here since this isn’t a comment, it’s a book length topic

          • Jon Wesenberg says:

            I only made my comment to point out that batteries won’t be limited by rare materials availability. The new batteries will allow us to kick the can slightly farther down the road, or at least they will until shortages of asphalt and cement prevent road maintenance and construction. I agree with the rest of your points, @energyskeptic. As far as the rest of the auto and truck industry goes, it’s going to disappear when the oil stops flowing, for reasons many of us have discussed a thousand times.

  3. Kevin M. says:

    Lead batteries have a 99% recycling/recovery rate. So while we probably can’t increase our supply of lead batteries indefinitely if we have the energy we can continuously recycle our current supply for quite some time.