Phase transitions in the early universe

The document “Mineral Commodity Summaries 2022, https://doi.org/10.3133/mcs2022) has just been published by the US Department of the Interior, and the US Geological Survey. The section dedicated to Lithium was of special interest to me.

In said report, it is indicated that the final use of lithium worldwide is distributed as follows: 74% for the production of batteries, 14% for the production of lubricants and greases, 3% for the manufacture of molds, 2% for the production of polymers, 2% for the industry related to air treatment, and 1% for other uses. Consumption for the production of batteries is a growing market, in particular due to the manufacture of electric cars and portable electronic devices, as well as for electrical storage in the distribution network.

Interestingly, the average cost of lithium carbonate for batteries in dollars per metric ton in 2020 was $8,000, while in 2021 it was $17,000, which represents an increase in cost of more than 100%.

The sources of lithium imports between 2017 and 2010 for the United States were: Argentina, 54%; Chile, 37%; China, 5%; Russia, 3%; other sources, 1%. On the other hand, world lithium consumption in 2021 was 93,000 tons, which represents a 33% increase compared to 70,000 tons in 2020.

World lithium production in 2021 in metric tons is concentrated in order of importance in the following countries: Australia 55,000; Chile 26,000; Chinese 14,000; Argentina 6,200; Additionally, other countries contribute to the global production of lithium but to a much lesser degree, these are: Brazil 1,500; Zimbabwe 1,200; Portuguese 900; United States (reserved data).

On the other hand, world lithium reserves by country are estimated as follows: Bolivia, 21 million tons; Argentina, 19 million tons; Chile, 9.8 million tons; Australia, 7.3 million tons; China, 5.1 million tons; Congo, 3 million tons; Canada, 2.9 million tons; Germany, 2.7 million tons; Mexico, 1.7 million tons; Czechia, 1.3 million tons; Serbia, 1.2 million tons; Russia, 1 million tons; Peru, 880,000 tons; Mali, 700,000 tons; Zimbabwe, 500,000 tons; Brazil, 470,000 tons; Spain, 300,000 tons; Portugal, 270,000 tons; Ghana, 130,000 tons; Austria, 60,000 tons; and Finland, Kazakhstan, and Namibia, 50,000 tons each.

On the other hand, one of the most important applications of lithium is its future use as fuel for fusion reactors or thermonuclear reactors. Let us remember that the first atomic bombs, such as those used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, operated through the fission process that consists of breaking or fissuring nuclei of heavy atoms such as uranium or plutonium through a chain reaction. As a result, a large amount of energy is released in a very short period of time, that is, there is a nuclear explosion of enormous destructive power. We can think of a nuclear fission reactor as an instrument that allows large amounts of nuclear energy to be released in a controlled manner, not in a millisecond like a bomb, but over a period of several years.

In this way, the energy generated in the reactor allows water to be boiled and the steam produced to be used to drive turbines to generate electricity. We also know that there are nuclear fusion reactions in which the nuclei of light Hydrogen atoms, or its isotopes such as deuterium and tritium, fuse, releasing enormous amounts of energy. In fact, the Sun works based on these reactions. Fusion reactions release much more energy than is released in a nuclear fission reaction. Currently, nuclear fusion reactions are used in atomic weapons of enormous destructive power, however they will eventually be used in nuclear fusion reactors that will allow the production of enough energy to solve the world energy problem. The energy released in fusion reactions is a million times greater than the energy released in chemical reactions.

For example, a gram of thermonuclear fuel (deuterium and lithium) produces the same energy as a ton of coal with the advantage that there is no emission of polluting or greenhouse gases, in addition to the fact that the planet’s world reserves of deuterium and lithium they can meet the world’s energy demand for electricity for all of humanity for millions of years.

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