Lithium is a critically important metal for the batteries essential in electronics such as automobiles, smartphones, computers and many weapons systems and components. A secure, reliable and steady lithium supply is critical for a modern economy and the military.

Yet, a steady, reliable supply is far from guaranteed; it is threatened from several directions. China is the world’s leading processor of battery-quality lithium. China has aggressively and successfully pursued lithium deposits and mines worldwide. A primary concern of this material control is the potential risk to the lithium supply chain for various geopolitical goals.

Phoenix had 19 days (and counting) in a row with temperatures over 110 degrees. The effects of climate change are here. India and China continue to increase their coal production and coal electrical plants. These plants will most likely operate for at least 30 years. Do we really want to depend on China to reduce global warming?

Luckily, Australia, the world’s largest raw lithium producer, remains fiercely independent. There is no indication of any potential undue government interference with lithium reserves or production. There is intense environmental and labor law oversight. But for now and the foreseeable future, there is no questionable government interference with a free supply chain. 

The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for South America. The large lithium deposits and mines in Argentina, Bolivia and Chile remain under threat of various government controls, including the consideration in Chile of nationalization.

What happens to the reliability of the supply chain under those conditions remains murky at best.

Domestically, the Silver Peak mine near Tonopah, Nevada, remains the only lithium mine in the United States. Fierce opposition to the Thacker project, a potentially large lithium mine in northern Nevada, leaves it uncertain whether bringing this project into production will be possible. Relentless opposition by some environmental groups and Native American tribes makes it more unlikely that this project — with its potentially large, secure, domestic supply chain — will ever come into production. The irony of groups strongly opposing domestic lithium production can hardly be overlooked. The unwillingness of Native Americans to consider economic benefits in return for a temporary land disturbance is similarly disappointing.

The stunningly slow and cumbersome domestic mine permitting is mainly responsible. One wishes the administration and Congress would take swift and decisive action to speed up mine permitting by minimizing the delays caused by various endless appeals.