Sanyo and VW to mass produce Lithium-ion batteries

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Volkswagen is hoping producing cars using Lithium-ion batteries by 2010.  The plans include diesel-electric plug-in hybrids in order to move towards a future “directed more strongly at making electrically powered automobiles alongside ones driven by more efficient combustion engines.”  Nissan is planning on mass-producing the same batteries by 2009.  These are steps in the right direction, but is it too little too late?  Could we also be trading one scarce resource for another in an attempt to continue to power personal automobiles?

The new cars will certainly be economical choices for those with disposable income given the higher price of gasoline and the cost reduction from the economies of scale of mass production.  The Golf TDI Hybrid is estimated to get 69 mpg, and will add to an existing fuel efficient VW lineup.  While benefitting some, how much will new VW and Nissan owners offset total gasoline consumption, and as a result ease the pressure felt from gasoline prices?  It is like to be very little, at least until these hybrids make up a significant portion of the auto fleet (Perhaps if prices get high enough, these would be the only cars in the fleet actually being driven?).

Aside from the positive impact needing at least a decade to be truly felt, there is also concern about the supply of Lithium. Currently, most lithium reserves are found in China, Chile, Argentina, and Bolivia, and supplies, and supply would have to be increased by an order of magnitude in order to construct a whole fleet of automobiles.  The increase in demand could outstrip the ability to increase lithium extraction, raising its price and offsetting any gains from mass production.  

How secure is a solution which relies on a steady flow of a resource from the South American Altiplano and Tibet?

I think EV’s would be good for public transport, but is the personal automobile in our future?   The more time and energy we spend chasing scarce resources in order to preserve our freedom of mobility, the more we lose our chance at effectively mitigating peak oil’s effects.

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