INTRODUCTION TO LITHIUM
Lithium is a chemical element with symbol Li and atomic number 3. The soft, silvery-white alkali metal is not found in its natural form but rather it occurs as compounds within salt brines (such as in South America) and hard rock deposits (Australia, Canada, Spain). There are a wide range of applications available from lithium and it's chemical compounds including industrial applications, consumer electronics, battery storage and the rapidly accelerating automotive sector.
The accelerating emergence of battery storage needs is a function of the global desire to reduce carbon emissions. The improving economics of lithium-ion batteries facilitates the progression of innovative technologies and movement in global energy use. The next decade is projected the see a tremendous increase in global battery consumption.
Historically, the main end-use for lithium has been in industrial applications including usage in glass and ceramics, grease, synthetic rubber, pharmaceuticals, air treatment, etc. In 2017 industrial applications still represented a majority of lithium demand. However it is changing, led lithium usage in batteries.
In recent years lithium has been increasingly used in batteries used in portable devices: computers, mobile phones, but also power tools, cameras, and a lot of other electronics. Now, lithium demand in Electric Mobility and which includes electric cars of course but also electric buses, bikes, scooters, etc has taken over electronics.
Lithium demand is estimated to reach 1.4 million tons LCE in 2027, representing a sixfold increase or almost 20% growth per year from lithium consumption in 2017. Consumption of lithium will continue to be driven by the new energy sectors, particularly the EV sector. Lithium consumption by rechargeable batteries is forecast to register a 27% growth per year between 2017 and 2027, reaching 1.2 million tons LCE in 2027.
Lithium is produced from either brine-based deposits or from hard-rock mineral deposits. The brine production comes mostly from South America and more precisely from Chile, followed by Argentina. Lithium brine is extracted from salt flats and pumped in ponds where it is stored for up to a year. Lithium is then purified into lithium chemicals.
Lithium can also be produced from rock mining and is mostly called spodumene in this form. Almost 100% of all lithium rock mining takes place in Australia. The lithium, or spodumene, needs then to be processed into lithium chemicals, which mostly takes place in China.
The European Story
There is a strong drive in Europe to move to EVs. Cooperation between automakers and battery manufacturers to build lithium-ion battery factories in the region is developing and there are plans for cathode production as well.
However on the battery metals side, Europe is far behind. It is important to de-risk the European supply chain by having more domestic sources of raw materials, including lithium. Learn more