ANIMATION: Race is on for global lithium mining domination

Salar de Uyuni. NASA Earth Observatory images by Lauren Dauphin, using Landsat data from the US Geological Survey.

While other battery metals including cobalt and nickel are down significantly from highs hit earlier this year, lithium continues to sell at record prices with carbonate prices doubling this year alone.

Companies and country’s are scrambling to cash in: Australia overtook Chile as the dominant supplier of lithium five years ago, but both countries continue to attract investment. Chile’s state-owned copper giant Codelco has joined the fray while a recent conference in Australia bragged of an “insatiable appetite” for the white metal.

State-owned copper producer in Mexico, which in April nationalized the industry, last month estimated the vast deposit located in northern Sonora state could be worth as much as 12 trillion pesos, or $600 billion.

In May, Argentina’s government said it expected investments in the sector worth $4.2 billion over the next five years, which could be an underestimate.

Congo-Kinshasa, already the dominant player in cobalt, is now jumping into the lithium market with both feet, while Chinese investors are also investing heavily in Zimbabwean projects.

Mining projects in the US and Europe are still fighting for a social licence to operate. The massive and unique Jadar project in Serbia is stalled due to concerted environmental opposition, while the Thacker Pass project in Nevada is dealing with pushback by a local native American tribe and ranchers.

The animated graph below shows the world’s top lithium producing countries since 2012 and forecasts the winners in the race over the next decade, based on forecasts by Fitch Solutions, a country risk and industry research company.

Note: May include territories, special administrative regions, provinces and autonomous regions. f = Fitch Solutions forecast. Source: Fitch Solutions