Scale of the Electric car problem
The UK has 40 million cars, vans, trucks and buses and the world has about 1 billion. Each car if electric and powered by lithium batteries would use on average about 200Kg of refined lithium, so that comes to about 8 million tonnes of it for the UK. The world production of lithium is about 82,000 tonnes per year, about 400,000 cars worth, so if we forgot about all mobile phones, laptops and other devices powered by batteries, and the rest of the world, and just grabbed it all for the UK it would take about 97 years lithium production at the current standards, 2,400 years for the world, forgetting motorbikes and the such. There is talk and it is just talk of other types of batteries, none of which have come even close to any production in except small trivial forms and experiments. Such things as biobatteries for personal use would need around 15 billion per car. Multiply it by 40 million for the UK and maybe 1 billion for the world. So, at around 50p production cost each to power a car may cost £7.5 billion each. The fabled Iron air batteries have a similar form to lead acid ones, just a bit higher tech, but are heavy, so to use them to power a car would need a trailer just for the batteries. Are they practical, probably not for anything mobile, when and if they can get them to work properly. It’s a bit like the perpetual motion idea behind fusion, free limitless energy, a thing previously claimed for nuclear power, but the reality if they ever get it to work is a lot different, needing a massive amount of high tech, processing, and pollution.
Lithium is used because it is very reactive and hard to get at. The only economic way of doing it is concentration by evaporation, so you need a high desert supplied with water to do it, such as the Atacama, separating it by chemical means using vast amounts of energy, lower evaporation temperatures being free in high areas with lithium, but not so friendly for water starved populations there. So, unless things change radically production wise, electric cars are a gimmick, used by the environmentally friendly just to impress other environmentally friendly people, but probably coming to nothing. As a last mention, if all the cars were electric, they would need the equivalent of the current electrical output of the UK on top what we currently use, similar for the world, so we would need to double up on our 11,000 wind turbines, solar panels, nuclear stations, CCG power stations and backup systems. But we all know clean power is free from any pollution, licences proving its being provided coming to about twice its level of physical production in this country.
At the moment we are recycling very little lithium. There is supposed to be a facility in Japan that is trying to do this, but little has been heard since the early days. Probably the best solution would be to crush the batteries and dump them in pools back in the Atacama, skimming off the lighter stuff for land fill, so starting the whole cycle off again, but with better concentrations.