South Africa: Lion’s Share of Lithium Deposits Could Put Bolivia in the Pound Seats

The point is that battery technology for electric cars is now taking off. Uncharacteristically, South Africans seem to be alive to the opportunities, and the venerable Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) appears to have even contributed to some early research on the subject.

According to an article on the topic in Engineering News, the Industrial Development Corporation is determining the commercial feasibility of establishing a battery-manufacturing business in SA. Lithium-ion batteries are the key. Engineering News says these appear to be winning the technology war in providing the most energy of all known rechargeable systems.

The original technology is more than 30 years old, and was partially invented by American professor John Goodenough. But Engineering News says a former South African who was working for CSIR at the time, Dr Michael Thackeray, was instrumental in taking the research further.

The CSIR lost interest, and Thackeray was lured to the US, but the advent of the electric vehicle, which could form 10% of the market in a decade or so, has now seen development work at the CSIR pick up again, with the formation of the Battery Research Centre this year.

The centre is headed by Dr Mkhulu Mathe, a chemistry PhD at Georgia University, which is doing its own research but also working with Thackeray to take his work further.

How does this all relate to Bolivia? It has 50% of the world’s known lithium deposits, at about 5,4-million tons. SA does not have a lot, but lots of African countries do, including Zimbabwe, Namibia, Niger and Ghana.

Lithium , however, is not a rare resource, and is fairly commonly available. Interestingly, perhaps unsurprisingly, the country with the most lithium mining companies is apparently China.

But you can sense an exciting global race starting to open up with commercial electric cars arriving on the scene. Now, if we could just get that Eskom problem sorted out….

Tim Cohen