Consumer demand for electric cars – and their resource-rich batteries – could soon affect the supply of life-saving drugs, according to an overseas report.
As global sales of electric vehicles increases at a rapid rate, the demand for lithium is also threatening to outpace supply.
According to a report from news outlet Nikkei Asia, lithium carbonate – a lifesaving medicine used for treating bipolar disorder – could soon be facing shortages and price hikes in Japan due to the pressures from the automotive industry.
Lithium is one of the key materials used in the production of electric-vehicle batteries, and while it is far from scarce, the limited access to the world’s underground reserves means demand is currently said to be greater than supply.
Japan’s Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma – ironically a pharmaceutical company with corporate links to Mitsubishi Motors – is planning to end production and sales of lithium carbonate tablets due to “anticipated difficulties in obtaining ingredients and rising prices due to increased demand for lithium,” a spokesperson told Nikkei Asia.
The Australian Government’s Therapeutic Goods Administration has also advised the shortage of one brand of lithium carbonate tablets between July and August 2023.
The price of lithium jumped dramatically in 2022 before dropping in early 2023, as car companies and battery manufacturers scrambled to secure enough lithium for current and future electric vehicle production.
“Buyers of some medical [ingredients] may be being outbid by industrial users,” Ichiro Fujikawa, chairman of the Japan Pharmaceutical Traders’ Association, told Nikkei Asia.
“Medicine [makers] have high production standards, but they don’t buy much in quantity.”