Lithium – A New Endless Cycle?

*Between technological development and caring for the environment

If you are reading this at this moment it is very likely that you should give thanks to John Goodenough, Stanley Whittingham, Akira Yoshino who in the 70’s worked for the creation of the lithium batteries that are part of most of our devices of the present. However, Lithium ion batteries played a vital role in the development of portable electronic devices, from computers to telephones. 

Despite the passage of time, they continue to prove their worth in different applications; as for example, in electric cars like the Tesla. Besides, over time and use, the battery will lose capacity and performance; but it is vastly superior to other alternatives. Consequently, in recent years we have seen many attempts to leave lithium ion batteries behind, with the use of other materials and elements, but so far none have managed to dethrone the queen. 

Furthermore, rechargeable lithium batteries are ubiquitous, and fortunately most work well. They are the preferred power source for the mobile applications industry due to their long operating times. They are used in all kinds of gadgets, from cordless tools to e-cigarettes, to Apple’s new wireless headphones. 

However, today lithium batteries are in a race before time in search of the replacement of storing more energy and being able to do so in a safer way than current batteries. In addition, what is sought through a new technology is to change the world, and not only to make a significant leap in terms of capacity, which has not been achieved. 

The scientific community and manufacturers do not cease in the search for improvement before the surrender of the batteries, since it is taken into account that lithium ions degrade over time since they have a limited life. In addition to this, a new lithium ion battery is being developed where its electrolyte is made up of glass crystals and in turn with various mixtures of various metals. 

That said, this new battery could withstand up to 23,000 charge and discharge cycles for which it would be granted an indefinite useful life. Since all are looking for the battery of the future, where it is more powerful, durable and safe as can be seen above. However, for a more forward-looking vision in relation to batteries, they have left common thinking, and Anglo-Saxon thinking has been emphasized in thinking in a different way. To be able to face the problem and change the course of the efforts.


As for the Anthropocene and the whole process that the chosen object, lithium batteries, must go through, it has a whole context from its extraction to its production and global marketing for mass consumption.

It is important to denote all the advance in the development of technology that this material has contributed, in addition to the economic advance, but it is also necessary to denote all the environmental impact that it has brought with it, an environmental impact that has been produced progressively within the human being, It has acted in the way we know slow violence, since it has forced or influenced our daily habits and behaviors without us realizing the great power it has had over our societies.

We highlight the slow violence because in many places where this material is produced for the production of batteries are areas of native indigenous people or places that do not have much contact with “technological advances”, natural reserves that have been taken care of so as not to have to be affected by the hand of the human being and its manipulation.

Technological development has shown that it brings with it certain sacrifices that in most cases only benefit large multinationals or extractivist companies that tend to have a single approach to mass production and economic gains, below we will show some examples of areas that have suffered this slowdown violence by extracting lithium for commercial purposes.

Argentina has one of the main world reserves of lithium, a key element for the manufacture of batteries. Currently there are more than 40 projects in different stages of development, which generate great expectations in the provinces of Salta, Jujuy and Catamarca. 

But there are still many debates to be resolved, related to the exporting or industrial role that the country is going to assume, as well as the environmental and social impacts derived from this exploitation, which could generate water shortages and pollution.

In the salt flats of the Puna, different communities of native peoples dedicated to agriculture and livestock in fragile ecosystems where water is scarce live ancestrally. Your main threat is losing that resource.

The arrival of companies that begin to compete for water generates great concern about how they will continue with their traditional ways of life. In some salt flats, three or four projects are being planned in the same place, with different uses of water, without knowing how these ecosystems work.

 There is not enough basic information available to evaluate the impacts of the projects and, above all, of the combination that may result from them; It is essential to convene the scientific community to seriously analyze these issues , we can say that the companies generate the information for environmental impact studies, but only in an area of ​​influence defined by their own project.

Many communities oppose these lithium mining projects because they are concerned about water. They demand to be consulted, but it is difficult for the authorities to recognize them as involved actors, despite the fact that they are the ancestral owners of the territory.

The officials in charge promote mining development and do not know how the communities live. There is a clash of culture, understandings and perspectives that a prior consultation should be able to articulate so that the evaluation process is not a mere formality with a state, administrative and bureaucratic logic.

 Furthermore, these processes should respect the decisions of the communities that do not wish to put their way of life at risk and reject extraction in their territories.

It may also be possible in the future to renew batteries at the end of life for use in computers or other electronic devices, or to rejuvenate them with the new electrolyte.


Historically, battery recycling has focused on cobalt recovery because its value has increased in response to increased demand for battery manufacturing. However, cobalt use in batteries is projected to decline as battery technology evolves.

In addition to cobalt, battery recyclers can recover lithium, nickel, and other materials. The demand for lithium to grow significantly due to increased use of Li-Ion batteries in electric vehicles. Recycling will help preserve virgin resources and reduce your environmental impact.

The report identifies a number of opportunities to improve the life cycle impacts of Li-ion batteries, including:

  • Increased battery life
  • reduce the consumption of cobalt and nickel
  • the incorporation of recovered material in the production of the batteries.

It is due to this context and situations that lithium and the batteries made of this material have come to have a great impact within our current society, the Anthropocene has brought with it great changes but also great environmental impacts with progressive consequences, modes of progressive violence such as the examples treated in this analysis, the displacement of native peoples from their lands and the influence on land damage.

Human behavior has become almost completely transformed, now we live in a faster world immersed in large-scale consumerism.

The important thing would be to rethink the new management or possible solutions for an economic and technological development without having to produce collateral effects with damages in communities or in our natural environment that surrounds us.


Speculative Design. 

Now according to several investigations, it can be seen that it is possible to recycle lithium ion batteries to make batteries that are rechargeable again, thanks to a study by the Salesian University of Cuenca, it has been possible to find new ways to redesign from recycling to lithium batteries.

Now we are experimenting with bicycles that can be supplied by these recyclable abterias and in the same way recharged, the only thing that is needed is an adequate procedure in terms of their development.

According to several theses that have been raised in recent years, it can be concluded that the reestablishment of the anodes of the batteries will create an industry specialized in recycling batteries to change their useful life to more years.

Thanks to scientific progress, all these advances have been found where it is understood that we can redesign the concept of a battery that is no longer useless to a technological mutation that at one point becomes what helps in our usual future.