The Countries Set To Win Big On The Lithium Boom

Last week I read a press release that piqued my interest. Vancouver-based Lithium Americas Corp. announced that they have received an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) from the US government for a proposed lithium mining project in Nevada.
The EIS is required for certain projects that may have a significant impact on the environment. This is an important milestone in the execution of large projects. Lithium Americas expects the final permit to be approved in early 2021.
Lithium Americas uses an acid leaching process to extract lithium. The company plans to spend $ 400 million on Phase 1 of its Thacker Pass project in Nevada. The mine is expected to open in 2023. The company also has a $ 565 million project under construction in Argentina.
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Given the expected importance of lithium in a world that is increasingly reliant on lithium-ion batteries, I thought it useful 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. According to The Review, global lithium production fell 19.2% to 77,000 tons in 2019, but that was still nearly four times the production level from a decade ago.
The drop in production last year was due to oversupply that drove prices down. However, lithium production is expected to nearly triple over the next five years as electric vehicle purchases continue to grow.
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Australia and Chile have swapped positions as the world's leading lithium producing country in the past ten years. But Australia has aggressively expanded its lithium reserves, and production rose nearly 170% in 2018 to put Australia first in the world.
In 2019 the top five lithium producers in the world were:
Australia - 52.9% of world production
Chile - 21.5%
China - 9.7%
Argentina - 8.3%
Zimbabwe - 2.1%
The USA was in 7th place with 1.2% of the world's lithium production. However, the United States is home to two of the world's top-producing lithium companies: Albemarle and Livent.
However, the world only produces a tiny fraction of its lithium reserves. Based on 2019 production levels, known global lithium reserves would last for more than 200 years. In 2019, the world's five largest lithium reserves by country were:
Chile - 55.5% of the world population
Australia - 18.1%
Argentina - 11.0%
China - 6.5%
USA - 4.1%
Given the abundance of lithium reserves and the current status of lithium production in their respective countries, it is likely that Chile and Australia will remain the world's lithium production superpowers for the foreseeable future.
By Robert Rapier
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