InTeGrate Modules and Courses >Humans' Dependence on Earth's Mineral Resources > Unit 2: Boom and Bust: How Econ 101 Relates to Rocks > Activity Option 2.1 - Batteries as an Example of Consumer Demand and Mineral Supply
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Activity Option 2.1 - Batteries as an Example of Consumer Demand and Mineral Supply

Joy Branlund (Southwestern Illinois College)
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Summary

Changes in rechargeable battery technology have dictated the supply and demand of commodities such as lithium, cobalt, cadmium, nickel, and lead. Students will study the changing technologies and other societal factors (such as human health) to see their impacts on mineral extraction and processing.

Learning Goals

Upon completion of this segment, students should be able to:
  • Identify the mineral resources used in rechargeable batteries.
  • Describe overall trends illustrated in mineral production and mineral value (price) graphs; identify changes in trends and/or anomalous features in the graphs; and explain trends, changes over time, and anomalies in terms of mine production, demand, recycling, changes in technology, regulation, and/or population growth.
  • Apply geoscientific habits of mind to interpret the complex relationships among consumers, producers, regulating agencies, and the environment in a global context by means of concept maps.
  • Examine their own consumer behavior and judge the impacts of this behavior on sustainability.

Context for Use

This is one option of an in-class activity to be used during Unit 2, stressing the links between mineral resource extraction and market forces (supply, demand, price, technology developments, etc.). Following a short discussion of the Unit 2 Concept Map, students can work through the activity in small groups with minimal instructor assistance. This activity can be completed in a wide range of courses, not only those with a geoscience focus. In addition, the activity can be completed in classes of any size and even in online settings.

Description and Teaching Materials

This activity requires students complete a homework assignment in preparation for class in addition to reviewing the Unit 2 Concept Map. The class begins with an overview/discussion, but most time is spent on a group activity. The instructor should save time at the end to summarize as a class.

Pre-Class Work

Homework for Unit 2 Battery Activity in Word (Microsoft Word 29kB Sep24 14) and in PDF. (Acrobat (PDF) 40kB Oct2 14)

In-Class Work

Provide Overview:

  • Go through the Unit 2 Concept Map (define "resource," "reserve") and give an example.
  • Introduce the following activity and how it will be run.
Activity:

This exercise works well as a small-group activity. Instructors can either collect the completed worksheets at the end of class or have students grade their own work as they move along. Expect students to spend 20 minutes on Part 1 and 20 minutes on Part 2. Part 1 includes questions about global demand, which should help link this unit of the module with Unit 1. Part 2 requires that students consult the Unit 2 Concept Map to make predictions about price and supply and then test their predictions against data.

Hand out all but the last two pages (until Part 2B) initially; allow students to check their predictions (Part 2B) only after Part 2A is complete.

Unit 2 Battery Activity Student Handout in Word (Microsoft Word 263kB Oct2 14) and in PDF. (Acrobat (PDF) 456kB Oct2 14) If students are working in groups, provide additional copies of the graphs in the packet.

Summary:

Lithium and cobalt, the primary ingredients in the dominant rechargeable batteries, can be used to provide examples of mining types and concerns, including an introduction to acid mine drainage and cut-off grade (and hence segue into Unit 3) using the following materials:

Lithium and Cobalt Mining. (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 327kB Oct2 14) The background information, references, and resources used to create this PowerPoint are provided at the link to the Student Materials version of this reading below.

Student Reading: Lithium and Cobalt Mining

Teaching Notes and Tips

  • Make sure students have a copy of the Unit 2 Concept Map that they will use to complete Part 2A.
  • Part 2 has two portions in which the students first make predictions (Part 2A) and then test those predictions (Part 2B). Only when students have made all their predictions should they request and be given Part 2B.
  • If students are struggling with Part 2A, then the instructor should lead the class through the first couple of bullet points.
  • Data for Part 2 can be found in an Excel spreadsheet linked below. Instructors can easily research more recent data and create updated graphs for this exercise.
  • Students do not need to complete this entire activity in one sitting; therefore, this unit can easily be split between two class periods.

Assessment

Assessments and Learning Outcomes

The learning outcomes are addressed by the activity questions as listed below:

  • Identify the mineral resources used in rechargeable batteries and understand the properties that make the mineral resources useful: Homework 2, 6, and 7; Activity Questions 1, 4, and 5.
  • Describe overall trends illustrated in mineral production and mineral value (price) graphs; identify changes in trends and/or anomalous features in the graphs; and explain trends, changes over time, and anomalies in terms of mine production, demand, recycling, changes in technology, regulation, and/or population growth: Activity Questions 1, 2, 3, 6, 9, and 10.
  • Apply geoscientific habits of mind to interpret the complex relationships among consumers, producers, regulating agencies, and the environment in a global context by means of concept maps: Activity Question 9
  • Examine their own consumer behavior and judge the impacts of this behavior on sustainability: Homework Questions 1, 3, 4, 5; Activity Questions 2, 3, and 8.
An instructor could grade the activity if the students complete it individually or in groups.
Possible Exam Questions

and

and

Student Self-Assessment

Unit 2 Batteries Self-Assessment Questions in Word (Microsoft Word 77kB Oct2 14)in PDF. (Acrobat (PDF) 149kB Oct2 14)

Unit 2 Batteries Self-Assessment Questions with Answer Key in Word (Microsoft Word 77kB Oct2 14) and in PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 162kB Oct2 14)

References and Resources

Data Sources:

Data Presented in the Graphs of Value/Price and Production from: Historical Statistics for Mineral and Mineral Commodities in the United States. USGS Data Series 140. Available at http://minerals.usgs.gov/ds/2005/140/.

Data on Number of Batteries and Metals in Batteries from: Wilburn, D.R. 2008. Material Use in the United States – Selected Case Studies for Cadmium, Cobalt, Lithium, and Nickel in Rechargeable Batteries. USGS Scientific Investigations Report 2008-5141. Available at http://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2008/5141/ .

Battery Energy Density and Cost from: Buchmann, Isidor. 2011. Batteries in a Portable World. Available at http://www.buchmann.ca/.

Information on Lithium and Cobalt Mining:

Good places to find images to add to the PowerPoint on lithium and cobalt mining (and to learn more) can be found on National Geographic's "Photos: Bolivia Seeks Electric Car Future in Salt Flats," written in 2010.

Idaho Cobalt Project's website contains information as well as photos of the new mine project.

NOAA photos of the Blackbird Mine restoration are found at http://www.photolib.noaa.gov/habrest/darp_blm.html.

Data for graphs and in tables is from:
    • Gruber, Paul W., Medina, Pablo A., Keoleian, Gregory A., Kesler, Stephen E., Everson, Mark P., and Wallington, Timothy J. 2011. "Global Lithium Availability: A Constraint for Electric Vehicles?" Journal of Industrial Ecology 15, no. 5: 760--75.
    • Mebane, C. A. 1994. Preliminary Natural Resource Survey -- Blackbird Mine, Lemhi County, Idaho. U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Hazardous Materials Assessment and Response Division, Seattle, WA. 130 pp. Available online at https://profile.usgs.gov/cmebane.
    • Idaho Fish and Game Department. Chinook Redd Counts for Spawning Ground Report. This searchable database can be used to find updated Chinook redd counts in Panther Creek. Available online at http://fishandgame.idaho.gov/ifwis/SpawningGroundSurvey/ViewReddSummary.aspx.

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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »