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Top Lithium Production by Country | INN

What were the top lithium-producing countries in 2020? Australia took the top spot, and it was followed by Chile and China.

Interest in lithium continues to grow due to the metal’s role in the lithium-ion batteries that power electric cars, and more attention is landing on the top lithium-producing countries. 

In total, about 65 percent of lithium produced goes toward battery production, but other industries also consume the metal. For example, 18 percent of lithium is used in ceramics and glass, while 5 percent goes to lubricating greases.

According to the US Geological Survey, lithium consumption for batteries has increased significantly in recent years due to the use of rechargeable lithium batteries in the growing market for portable electronic devices, as well as in electric tools, electric vehicles and grid storage applications.

Manufacturers commonly use lithium carbonate or lithium hydroxide in these batteries rather than lithium metal. Although lithium is a key ingredient in lithium-ion batteries, they also include other metals, such as cobalt, graphite and nickel.

As demand for lithium continues to rise, which countries will provide the lithium the world requires? The latest data from the US Geological Survey shows that the world’s top lithium-producing countries are doing their best to meet rising demand from energy storage and electric vehicles — that said, worldwide lithium production declined slightly from 2019 to 2020, coming in at 82,000 metric tons (MT) of lithium content last year, not including US production.

Read on for a brief overview of the top eight lithium-producing countries in 2020. If the electric vehicle market continues to grow, and if lithium-ion batteries continue their reign as the top batteries for electric vehicles, it’s likely that they will produce even more of the metal in years to come.

1. Australia

Mine production: 42,000 MT

Kicking off our top lithium-producing countries list is Australia. It produced 42,000 MT of lithium content last year, down significantly from 16,800 MT from the year before. Australia’s production increased impressively in 2018 due to two new spodumene operations that ramped up production in 2017, along with five additional spodumene operations that ramped up output in 2018. However, the tough price environment and costs led many to reduce production.

Australia hosts the Greenbushes lithium asset, which is operated by Talison Lithium, a subsidiary jointly owned by miners Tianqi Lithium (SZSE:002466) and Albemarle (NYSE:ALB). Greenbushes is the longest continuously operating mining area in Western Australia, having been in operation for over 25 years.

Australia also holds over 2.7 million MT of identified lithium reserves, according to the US Geological Survey, which puts it just behind Chile. It is worth noting that most of the country’s lithium supply is exported to China as spodumene.

2. Chile

Mine production: 18,000 MT

Chile was another of the world’s top lithium producers in 2019, with its production increasing from 17,000 MT of lithium content in 2018 to 18,000 MT last year. Unlike Australia, where lithium is extracted from hard-rock mines, Chile’s lithium is found in lithium brine deposits.

The Salar de Atacama salt flat in Chile generates roughly half the revenue for SQM (NYSE:SQM), a top lithium producer. The Salar de Atacama is also the home of another top producer from lithium brine operations — US-based Albemarle (NYSE:ALB).

 

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3. China

Mine production: 7,500 MT

China came third for lithium production in 2019, beating Argentina by 1,100 MT. The Asian country saw its lithium supply grow to 7,500 MT last year from 7,100 MT in 2018.

While lithium production in China is comparatively low, it is the largest consumer of lithium due to its electronics manufacturing and electric vehicle industries. It also produces nearly two-thirds of the world’s lithium-ion batteries and controls most of the world’s lithium processing facilities, according to data from Benchmark Mineral Intelligence.

China now gets most of its lithium from Australia, but is looking to expand its capacity in the future.

4. Argentina

Mine production: 6,400 MT

Lithium producer Argentina’s output remained flat in 2019, achieving production of 6,400 MT.

It’s well known that Bolivia, Argentina and Chile make up the Lithium Triangle. Argentina’s Salar del Hombre Muerto district hosts significant lithium brines, and its reserves are enough for at least 75 years.

At present, lithium mining in the country shows no signs of slowing down. According to an Economist Intelligence Unit report, two mines are currently in production and over 60 projects are in development, with five close to coming onstream.

5. Zimbabwe

Mine production: 1,600 MT

Last year, Zimbabwe’s production remained at the same level as in 2018, when it increased for the first time in five years from 800 MT to 1,600 MT. The country’s privately owned Bikita Minerals is its only lithium producer, and allegedly holds the world’s largest-known lithium deposit at over 11 million tonnes; three other miners are working towards production. Total reserves in Zimbabwe stand at 70,000 MT, as per the US Geological Survey.

Since former President Robert Mugabe’s resignation after 37 years, there has been great speculation as to the country’s potential in the lithium market. Winston Chitando, Zimbabwe’s new mining minister, said he believes the country has “the potential to actually account for 20 percent of global lithium demand when all known lithium resources are being exploited.”

6. Zimbabwe

Mine production: 1,200 MT

Last year, Zimbabwe’s production remained at the same level as in 2019. Like Brazil, the African nation has seen its lithium output increase dramatically in recent years. Zimbabwe’s privately owned Bikita Minerals is its only lithium producer, and allegedly holds the world’s largest-known lithium deposit at over 11 million tonnes; other miners are working towards production. Total reserves in Zimbabwe stand at 220,000 MT, as per the US Geological Survey.

Since former President Robert Mugabe’s resignation after 37 years, there has been great speculation as to the country’s potential in the lithium market. Winston Chitando, Zimbabwe’s new mining minister, said he believes the country has “the potential to actually account for 20 percent of global lithium demand when all known lithium resources are being exploited.”

7. Portugal

Mine production: 900 MT

Portugal produces much less lithium than the six countries ahead of it unchanged from 2019.

Most of the country’s lithium comes from the Gonçalo aplite-pegmatite field. Despite this lithium-producing country’s comparatively low output, Portugal’s lithium reserves stand at 60,000 MT.

8. United States

Mine production: unknown

In the final place on our top lithium producers list is the US, which withheld production numbers to avoid disclosing proprietary company data. Its only output last year came from a Nevada-based brine operation, most likely in the Clayton Valley, which hosts Albemarle’s Silver Peak mine.

There are a handful of major lithium projects underway in the US, including Lithium Americas’ (TSX:LAC,NYSE:LAC) Thacker Pass lithium claystone project, Piedmont Lithium’s (ASX:PLL) hard-rock lithium project and Standard Lithium’s (TSXV:SLL,OTCQX:STLHF) Arkansas Smackover lithium brine project.

Now that you know more about lithium producers around the world, read our article on lithium reserves by country. You can also check out our article on top lithium-mining companies to see which firms are dominating the lithium market.

Don’t forget to follow us @INN_Resource for real-time news updates!

Securities Disclosure: I, Melissa Pistilli, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.

Editorial Disclosure: Piedmont Lithium is a client of the Investing News Network. This article is not paid-for content.

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