Is Lithium for Grease Formulations in Short Supply?

March 8, 2022

by Doug Adams, Senior Development Chemist

RSC Bio Solutions is a green technology company that manufactures Environmentally Acceptable Lubricants (EALs) and I am proud that the greases I develop are Vessel General Permit (VGP) compliant and perform the same or better than the greases in their category.

When tasked to develop these greases in 2016, there was a significant amount of literature reporting shortages of Lithium. The shortage of Lithium was said to be based upon the growth in the use of Lithium in the Electric Vehicle (EV) batteries.

It is now 2022, and the Lithium Complex greases developed in 2016 have been manufactured on time and the predicted shortages of Lithium have yet to materialize. The reasons that significant shortages of Lithium did not occur include:

  • There are Lithium deposits in Mexico, Canada, Australia, South America, Africa, Europe as well as the United States.
  • Lithium can be sourced from clay, brine or it can mined (Spodumene).
  • The facilities that mine and refine Lithium ramped up production in anticipation of the increased demand.
  • More than half of EV batteries and other storage batteries are recycled.

Battery technology for solar panels and for EV will continue to evolve and there is a distinct possibility that lithium in these rechargeable batteries may change.

Lithium-ion batteries account for nearly 75% of current lithium use while the lubricants market accounts for only 3% of lithium demand. Consequently, for the next 15-20 years, lithium should continue to be readily available to make lithium-based greases. Moving away from lithium-based greases when this technology is extremely effective, cost efficient and readily available does not appear to be necessary.

So, there should be no need to adopt inferior grease technologies out of a fear that lithium demand will outpace supply.

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