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Lithium: The Fuel of the Green Revolution

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Lithium: The Fuel of the Green Revolution

Lithium: The Fuel of the Green Revolution

The world is shifting greener.

And while people have always wanted electric cars and inexpensive solar power, the reality is that until recently, battery technology just wasn’t good enough to store energy on an economical or practical basis.

Things have changed, and the green revolution has been kickstarted by battery power. The commercialization of the lithium-ion battery has solved a crucial green energy problem for two major reasons that can be related back to the properties of lithium:

1) Lithium has extremely high electrochemical potential, and so do lithium-ion cells:

Battery cellTypical Voltage
Lithium-ion (Cobalt)3.6V
Lead Acid2.0V
NiMH1.2V
NiCd1.2V

This means one lithium-ion cell can do more – making it much more efficient to use in everything from electronics to energy storage.

2) Lithium is also the lightest metal on the periodic table. Batteries need to be as light as possible, especially in electric cars.

How Lithium Gets Used

2001
Many years ago, lithium was used chiefly for a variety of industrial purposes. Major sources of lithium demand included ceramics, glass, aluminum production, lubricants, and as a catalyst for rubber production.

2015
In modern times, with the commercialization of the lithium-ion, batteries are now the major source of demand for lithium at 39%.

2025
According to a report by Deutsche Bank, in 2025 the battery market for lithium alone will be more than 2x bigger than the total lithium market today.

About 70% of all lithium will go to electric vehicles, e-bikes, traditional batteries, and energy storage, making it the uncontested fuel of the green revolution.

Major Lithium Drivers

Lithium-ion battery demand is primarily driven by rapid growth in the electric vehicle market, which is expected to make up 35% of all vehicle demand by 2040.

But renewable energy storage also plays a role in driving lithium demand. With solar and wind energy being installed at a rapid pace, that means more batteries must be procured to store this energy. This can be done for a home system with a product like Tesla’s Powerwall 2.0, and it is being done on a utility scale as well.

Two Types of Lithium

Prices for lithium have skyrocketed in the last two years – and it is worth knowing the two different types of lithium used by the market.

Lithium carbonate:
This is the first chemical in the production chain, and as a result, sells for less than lithium hydroxide. It can be used as cathode material in some batteries, such as the Nissan Leaf, where it is used in a LMO with NMC formulation (Lithium manganese oxide / nickel manganese cobalt oxide chemistries)

Lithium hydroxide:
This is a by-product of lithium carbonate, created by a metathesis reaction with calcium hydroxide. It can be used to produce cathode material more efficiently and is actually necessary for some types of cathodes. It’s used in the Tesla Powerwall and Model S, for example.

Lithium Mining

There are two basic ways to extract lithium: from brine or from hard rock. The latter mainly consists of spodumene production.

Brine deposits represent about 66% of global lithium resources, and are found mainly in the salt flats of Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, China, and Tibet.

The most famous area for lithium is known as the Lithium Triangle, located on the border between Chile, Argentina, and Bolivia. Salar de Atacama, the world’s third largest salt flat, resides on the Chilean side, and contains about 50% of global reserves.

The largest lithium producers in 2015 were Chile (37%) and Australia (33%). Argentina is the only other double-digit producer at 11%.

Lithium is Fueling the Green Revolution

Here’s the estimated amount of lithium that can be found in everyday items using lithium-ion batteries:

Tesla Model S: 51kg
Electric Vehicles: 10-63kg
Tesla Powerwall 2.0: 10kg
Hybrids: 0.8kg to 2.0kg
Power tool batteries: 40-60g
Laptops: 30-40g
Tablets: 20-30g
Mobile phones: 2-3g

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Ranked: The World’s Largest Lithium Producers in 2023

Three countries account for almost 90% of the lithium produced in the world.

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Voronoi graphic showing the top lithium producers in 2023.

The World’s Largest Lithium Producers in 2023

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Three countries—Australia, Chile, and China—accounted for 88% of lithium production in 2023.

In this graphic, we list the world’s leading countries in terms of lithium production. These figures come from the latest USGS publication on lithium statistics (published Jan 2024).

Australia Leads, China Approaches Chile

Australia, the world’s leading producer, extracts lithium directly from hard-rock mines, specifically from the mineral spodumene.

The country saw a big jump in output over the last decade. In 2013, Australia produced 13,000 metric tons of lithium, compared to 86,000 metric tons in 2023.

RankCountryLithium production 2023E (metric tons)
1🇦🇺 Australia86,000
2🇨🇱 Chile44,000
3🇨🇳 China33,000
4🇦🇷 Argentina9,600
5🇧🇷 Brazil4,900
6🇨🇦 Canada3,400
7🇿🇼 Zimbabwe3,400
8🇵🇹 Portugal380
🌍 World Total184,680

Chile is second in rank but with more modest growth. Chilean production rose from 13,500 tonnes in 2013 to 44,000 metric tons in 2023. Contrary to Australia, the South American country extracts lithium from brine.

China, which also produces lithium from brine, has been approaching Chile over the years. The country increased its domestic production from 4,000 metric tons in 2013 to 33,000 last year.

Chinese companies have also increased their ownership shares in lithium producers around the globe; three Chinese companies are also among the top lithium mining companies. The biggest, Tianqi Lithium, has a significant stake in Greenbushes, the world’s biggest hard-rock lithium mine in Australia.

Argentina, the fourth country on our list, more than tripled its production over the last decade and has received investments from other countries to increase its output.

With all the top producers increasing output to cover the demand from the clean energy industry, especially for electric vehicle (EV) batteries, the lithium market has seen a surplus recently, which caused prices to collapse by more than 80% from a late-2022 record high.

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