Lithium expert dismisses oversupply forecasts

Chile’s Salar de Atacama, pictured here, is the world’s largest and purest active source of lithium. Reference image by Francesco Mocellin, Wikimedia Commons.

The possibility of an oversupply of lithium chemical is a myth, the president of California-based Global Lithium, Joe Lowry, said this week.

Addressing the audience at the conference Paydirt 2019 Latin America Downunder, Lowry blamed the spread of such a ‘myth’ on ‘big bank’ analysts and the Chilean regulator CORFO.

In Lowry’s view, there have been misunderstandings regarding CORFO’s reports related to its revised agreements allowing Albemarle and SQM to produce more material from the Atacama brine resource.

“The reality is increasing production quickly is not so easy,” he said.

Global Lithium predicts that the industry will need to inject $12 billion within five years to have a chance of meeting demand.

The executive predicts that the ‘Big Four’ global lithium producers, SQM, Albemarle, Ganfeng and Tianqi, would not be able to meet the lithium demand forecasted for 2025 on their own.

“Overall, the industry faces a lack of financing and needs to inject more than $12 billion within five years to have a chance of meeting demand,” he said. “This requirement is exacerbated further by known and emerging failures in lithium start-ups which have demonstrated a lack of necessary skillsets – high profile failures that have discouraged sector investment.”

On the issue of source, the Global Lithium executive called for a more balanced debate, saying analysts’ predictions of the dominance of hard rock lithium were both incorrect and incomplete.

“Neither lithium source – hard rock or brine – will dominate the future,” Lowry told those gathered in Perth, Western Australia. “It will be cathode selection decisions that will drive product choice. Any price issue will be defined more by the actual production cost curve at the time – but expect prices to be much firmer going forward.”