Concentration of critical minerals’ supply intensifies despite diversification efforts

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Concentration of supply intensified for some critical minerals in 2022, despite US and Europe’s efforts to diversify and reduce reliance on China.

According to the International Energy Agency, the share of the top three producers last year either remained unchanged or has increased further, especially for nickel and cobalt, compared with 2019.

“Our analysis of project pipelines reveals a somewhat improved outlook for mining, but not for refining operations where today’s geographical concentration is greater,” said the agency in its Critical Minerals Market Review 2023.

“Planned projects are mostly developed in incumbent regions, with China holding half of planned lithium chemical facilities and Indonesia representing nearly 90% of planned refined nickel plants,”

Resource-holding nations are increasingly determined to secure higher positions along the value chain, while consuming countries, namely US and European countries, are actively exploring options to diversify their sources of refined metal supplies.

However, China has been actively investing in many mining assets in Africa and Latin America, and its investment in overseas mining assets is likely to grow in the coming years.

Between 2018 and the first half of 2021, Chinese companies invested $4.3 billion to acquire lithium assets, twice the amount invested by companies from the US, Australia and Canada combined.

China is also investing in processing, refining and downstream facilities in other regions. Its investments in Indonesia’s nickel processing plants are well known, and automaker BYD recently announced a plan to build a $290 million lithium cathode plant in northern Chile.