Lithium Market: Overview & Key Facts

05 Oct 2018 • by Natalie Aster
Lithium Market: Overview & Key Facts

LONDON – Today, lithium serves as an important material in a great number of spheres. The surging demand for it in a range of rapidly-evolving energy storage applications (e.g. electric vehicles, electronics, grid-connected energy storage systems) acts as the major growth engine of the global lithium market and, at the same time, presents the biggest challenge for the lithium producers, as currently they are rather limited in their ability to satisfy the skyrocketing demand. Here are a comprehensive overview of the present scenario and key statistics on the performance of the lithium market:

RESERVES

Lithium a silver-white, soft metal related to the alkali metal group. Given the high reactivity, lithium occurs in nature only in compounds.

Around the globe, the identified reserves of lithium are estimated at some 16 million tons. However, the accurate estimation of the worldwide lithium reserves is very difficult: the majority of lithium classification schemes are worked out for solid ore deposits, while brine is a fluid that is rather problematic to measure with the same classification schemes given varying concentrations along with pumping effects.

Chile accounts for almost half of the world’s total reserves of lithium. The country’s deposits are estimated at approximately 7.5 million metric tons (MMT). Close to 86% of the Chilean lithium reserves come from Salar de Atacama – a large salt flat in the northern part of the country.

Structure of world’s lithium reserves by country, 2017 Structure of world’s lithium reserves by country, 2017

Large reserves of lithium are also found in China (appr. 3.2 MMT), Australia (appr. 2.7 MMT), and Argentina (appr. 2 MMT). More modest reserves of this metal are located in Portugal, Brazil, the US, and Zimbabwe

PRODUCTION

The world’s output of lithium demonstrated a steady decline during 2012-2015. However, it improved in 2016 and took the upward trend. In the year 2017, the volume of the world’s lithium mine production climbed to 43,000 metric tons of lithium content, registering a YoY gain of nearly 13%.

World’s lithium mine production over 2010-2017 (in 1,000 metric tons of lithium content)

World’s lithium mine production over 2010-2017 (in 1,000 metric tons of lithium content)

Australia boasts the largest mine production of lithium in the world. In 2017, the country’s output jumped to 18,700 metric tons.

Chile is the second leading mine producer of lithium. Last year, Chile produced around 14,100 metric tons of lithium.

Argentina comes the third on the list of the world’s dominant lithium mine producing country with the output volume of nearly 5,500 metric tons in 2017.

Top 5 lithium mine producing countries over 2015 – 2017 (in 1,000 metric tons)

Two more countries in the top 5 lithium mine producers are China and Zimbabwe with output volumes of estimated 3,000 metric tons and 1,000 metric tons, respectively.

CONSUMPTION

The global consumption of lithium has exhibited a strong upward trend during 2010 – 2016. In the year 2016, it went beyond 212,700 metric tons of lithium carbonate equivalent.

World’s lithium consumption over 2010-2016 (in 1,000 metric tons of lithium carbonate equivalent)

World’s lithium consumption over 2010-2016 (in 1,000 metric tons of lithium carbonate equivalent)

Nowadays, lithium is used in an array of different applications across a wide range of industries.

The batteries sector grabs a bulk share (nearly 45%) of the overall volume of lithium consumed worldwide. The world’s lithium battery market is poised to enjoy an impressive growth in the year ahead, thus, considerably spurring the demand for the metal.

Around 27% of the total lithium consumption volume was used in the manufacturing of ceramic and glass products. Other important end-use sectors of lithium comprise lubricant greases, casting mold powders, and polymers.

Structure of world’s lithium consumption by end-uses, 2017

Structure of world’s lithium consumption by end-uses, 2017

The demand for the metal doesn’t show any signs of slackening. The notable increase in the demand for lithium batteries from a number of industries is set to act as the major growth engine of the lithium market in the coming years. Other major applications are expected to register relatively moderate gains in the offing.

MARKET FUTURE OUTLOOK

Propelled by an upturn in R&D activities, increasing investments in many countries, rising innovations and product developments, and escalating demand from a host of applications, the world’s lithium market is anticipated to experience an amazing growth at a CAGR of nearly 13% in the next 5 years.

The highest growth rates are projected for the APAC lithium market. China is set to be at the forefront of the regional market. This is attributed majorly to the massive output of goods made of lithium in the country. Robust gains are also expected in the North American and European markets for lithium due to the sustained growth of the major end-use industries of this metal in these regions. Meantime, Latin America presents promising opportunities for the lithium market growth owing to the large lithium reserves in this region.

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