Lithium, frequently referred to as “white petroleum,” drives much of the modern world, as it has become an irreplaceable component of rechargeable batteries used in high tech devices. The lithium-ion batteries needed to power electric cars use lithium carbonate or lithium hydroxide, but the industry typically talks in terms of lithium carbonate equivalent which contains both. Two types of lithium deposits dominate. One is hard rock as found in Australia, for which ready-to- go capacity to produce battery grade lithium can take up to three years. The other is brine, mostly found in Chile and Argentina, which can take seven years or more. link  (Top seven countries producing lithium – link)  



  • General information
  • South America
  • Australia
  • Meeting demand for lithium

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 General information

Global lithium resources are estimated, as of 2016, to be just under 47 million metric tons. Lithium is mined from three types of deposits: brines, pegmatites and sedimentary rocks. Continental brines and pegmatites (or hard-rock ore) are the main sources for commercial lithium production. Lithium minerals containing lithia (Li2O), such as spodumene, petalite and lepidolite, are mined from open-cut and underground mines, with the largest producers being Australia, China, Zimbabwe and Canada. Lithium-rich brines from salt lakes are located in the Andes of Chile and Argentina and in the Himalayas of China. link

 South America

May 2018: Chile’s indigenous people are fighting lithium extraction. The Salar de Atacama region contains some of the world’s richest lithium deposits, but private interests are cashing in at the expense of their environment. Protestors say exploiting it could come at a terrible environmental cost. The Chilean government wants to boost lithium production and potentially manufacture batteries in the country, breaking classic supply model where Latin American countries provide materials for products produced elsewhere. link

November 2017: Argentina seeks to overtake Chile in South America lithium race. Since 2015, Argentina has received more investment than any other country in the ‘lithium triangle’ – the border region including parts of Chile and Bolivia that contains over half the world’s known reserves of so-called “white petroleum.” Orocobre, which produces some 14,500 tonnes of lithium carbonate per year at a mine on the Olaroz salt flat, has announced plans to more than double its total production to 35,000 tonnes by 2019, in conjunction with its partner Toyota Tsusho Corp. link

June 2017: A battle for supremacy in the lithium triangle. Three South American countries have much of the world’s lithium. The “lithium triangle”, the Olaroz salt flats, overlays Argentina, Bolivia and Chile (see map) holds 54% of the world’s “lithium resources. The three countries take very different approaches to exploiting it.  Market-friendly Chile has a big head start. Argentina is hastening to make up lost ground. Bolivia, whose resources are as large as Argentina’s, has barely begun to exploit them. Those differences suggest much about how the South American trio treat enterprise and investment more generally. They face a formidable challenger in Australia, where lithium must be expensively crushed out of rock and shipped to China for processing, but investment conditions are friendlier. link  

August 2016: Can Bolivia capitalize on huge lithium, reserves? Bolivia should be in a great position to take advantage of the lithium boom: the country holds the world’s largest identified reserves. First it has several issues to overcome having a rudimentary infrastructure, a challenging regulatory environment and doubts around the security of investments in the land-locked nation which pose obstacles to investors. link  (Image of Salar de Uyuni before sunrise by Dimitry B / Flickr Commons)  

March 2017: Argentina may be about to flood the market with lithium. Good news for Tesla. If all of the projects go ahead, Argentina’s annual output of the metal used in electric-vehicle batteries would surge to 165,000 metric tons, or about 45% of global supply. Mining secretary Daniel Meilan said he isn’t concerned by the prospect of a flood of new lithium supply sinking prices. link


Australia is the world leader in lithium production with 13,000 metric tons in 2014. Unlike Chile and Argentina whose lithium is found in brines below the surface of salt flats, Australia extracts lithium from traditional hard-rock mines and exports a proportion of it to China and other Asian countries. Chile produces the second most lithium at 12,900 metric tons in 2014. Top ten producers. link  Western Australia has abundant lithium resources and is geographically placed close to the main global customers and markets, particularly China, Korea and Japan. link

 Meeting demand

August 2017: Meeting demand for lithium. Demand for battery-grade lithium compounds is expected to skyrocket in the next decades in tandem with soaring demand for electric cars as governments and individual consumers try to reduce their carbon footprint. Although there’s plenty of lithium around, the problem is ensuring there is enough capacity to process it. Producers of processed lithium are agreeing long-term contracts with their customers to fund the investments needed to address a looming shortfall. link  (October 2017: Battery metals other than lithium could be in short supply. link)

 May 2017: Lithium-ion gigafactories planned across Europe. Battery-making gigafactories are about to arrive in Europe, challenging Tesla’s lead. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is scheduled to break ground at a $543 million plant for Daimler AG. Large-scale factories are also planned in Sweden, Hungary and Poland. Lithium-ion battery packs are projected to be 43% cheaper by 2021, dropping to $156 a kilowatt-hour from $273 today. link

June 2015: Is there enough lithium to maintain the growth of the lithium-ion battery market? The U.S. Geological Survey produced a reserves estimate of lithium in early 2015, concluding that the world has enough known reserves for about 365 years of current global production of about 37,000 tons per year. Even though 365 years of reserve supply sounds very comforting, the point of the EV and stationary storage revolutions is that current demand will shoot up, way up. If the 100 Gigafactories scenario could come true, the 365-year supply would be less than a 17-year supply. link

April 2016: The hunt for lithium is on. Demand for lithium – the hottest commodity on the planet and the only commodity to show positive price movement in 2015 – is poised to continue on its upward trajectory, becoming the world’s new gasoline and earning the moniker of “White Petroleum”.  The Argentina lithium rush is already in full swing, with miners eyeing resources of up to 128 million tons of lithium carbonate. link

July 2014: Breakthrough in lithium battery design. A team of Stanford University researchers, including former Energy Secretary Steven Chu, believes it has achieved the “holy grail” of lithium battery design: an anode of pure lithium that could boost the range of an electric car to 300 miles. The lithium in a lithium-ion battery today is found in the electrolyte. The electrons in the electrolyte flow to the anode during recharging, and if the anode were also made of lithium, the battery would be able to generate much more power and weigh much less. Until now, however, lithium anodes have been unusable, but the Stanford team thinks it has solved these problems. link