It is the essential raw material for producing the batteries of our smartphones and electric cars. Lithium has become the new white gold of the 21st century. All over the world, the search for new deposits is in full swing, and particularly in France, where Imerys has announced a mining project at its Beauvoir site in the Allier region. Enough to equip 700,000 electric vehicles a year with Lithium-ion batteries.
The cost of lithium is exploding
But some countries are much better endowed, and this is what emerges from an infographic recently published by the Statista portal. To do this, the platform relied on information from the US Geological Survey for the year 2021.
In detail, four countries take the lion’s share. In terms of current reserves, Chile is well ahead with 41% of the total. We find Australia in second position (25%), followed by Argentina (10%). Finally, China brings up the rear with 7%.
The ranking differs if we refer to the total mining production of last year. It is thus Australia which ranks in pole position with 55,000 tonnes produced. Chile is in second place (26,000 tonnes), while China is third (14,000 tonnes). Argentina meanwhile produced 6,200 tonnes of lithium last year.
the #lithiumessential for the production of #batteries, is experiencing a price surge, trading on average at nearly €80,000 per tonne in China in October (more than double compared to the end of 2021). Last year, only 4 countries shared 90% of mining production.
— Statista France (@Statista_FR) November 3, 2022
The stakes are clearly high for these States. Indeed, lithium has seen its cost explode in recent years. Still according to Statista, it was relatively low until 2020, well below 10,000 euros per ton, but everything has changed since then. It thus reached 40,000 euros per tonne in December 2021. And it is well over 50,000 dollars today. Demand is so strong that the trend seems set to last, although some analysts are leaning towards a decline in 2023.
Lithium mining is not without danger
If this could be likened to good news for the economy of these countries, beware of triumphalism. Economists have thus observed what they have called the “curse of raw materials”. According to this notion, it appears that the growth of countries that have strong oil resources is lower than those that do not.
The extraction of lithium is also criticized by ecologists. This is the case of Friends of the Earth, which underlines the impacts of mining on the environment. The association warns in particular that these practices jeopardize access to water. Likewise, it can degrade soils and endanger biodiversity.