The supply alarm has already begun to sound, even though vehicles capable of running without petrol or diesel are still a rarity on our roads. Numerous funds are hoarding the metal, and the result is that lithium and cobalt prices have more than tripled in a couple of years, from $20,000 to over $80,000 per tonne.
85% of the world's lithium is found in Argentina, Chile and Bolivia. In Bolivia, the poorest of South American countries, the main source is the Salar de Uyuni, an enormous salt flat covering more than ten thousand square kilometres. Underneath this surface there is lithium in large quantities, but so far hardly used.
The problem is extracting it: it costs a lot of money and requires great technical expertise. Mining requires huge amounts of water for extraction. Chile, for example, has started to take water from the sea to continue extraction, with the big problem of having to purify it of salt. In Bolivia, on the other hand, there is a risk that groundwater will be affected by the cleaning of the extracted material. In some cases, several hectares of virgin forest are cleared, and lagoons are drained to store 'cakes' - these are mountains of excavated and waste material.