Last week I read a press release that piqued my interest. Vancouver-based Lithium Americas Corp. announced that they had received an environmental impact statement (EIS) from the U.S. government for a proposed lithium mining project in Nevada.
The EIS is required for certain projects that have the potential to significantly impact the environment. It is one an important milestone in getting major projects executed. Lithium Americas said they expect final permitting to be approved in early 2021.
Lithium Americas uses an acid leaching process to extract lithium. The company intends to spend $400 million on Phase 1 of its Thacker Pass project in Nevada, with opening of the mine expected for 2023. The company also has a $565 million project under construction in Argentina.
Given the expected importance of lithium in a world that is becoming heavily reliant on lithium-ion batteries, I thought it would be worthwhile to review the world’s current lithium production, as well as the location of its reserves.
The BP Statistical Review of World Energy tracks lithium production and reserves numbers. According to The Review, global lithium production dropped 19.2% in 2019 to 77,000 metric tons, but that was still nearly four times the production level from a decade ago.
The production decline last year was attributed to oversupply that crashed prices. However, over the next five years lithium production is projected to nearly triple as purchases of electric vehicles (EVs) continue to surge.
Australia and Chile have swapped positions as the world’s leading lithium-producing country over the past decade. But Australia has aggressively developed its lithium reserves, and production jumped nearly 170% in 2018 to put Australia firmly in first place globally.
In 2019, the world’s Top 5 lithium producers were:
- Australia – 52.9% of global production
- Chile – 21.5%
- China – 9.7%
- Argentina – 8.3%
- Zimbabwe – 2.1%
The U.S. ranked 7th with 1.2% of the world’s lithium production. Nevertheless, the U.S. is home to two of the world’s top-producing lithium companies: Albemarle and Livent.
However, the world is only producing a tiny fraction of its lithium reserves. Based on 2019 production levels, known global lithium reserves would last more than 200 years. In 2019, the world’s Top 5 lithium reserves by country were:
- Chile – 55.5% of the world’s total
- Australia – 18.1%
- Argentina – 11.0%
- China – 6.5%
- U.S. – 4.1%
Given the abundance of lithium reserves and the current status of lithium production in their respective countries, it seems likely that Chile and Australia will remain the world’s lithium-production superpowers for the foreseeable future.