Where was the highest lithium production by country in 2019? Australia took the top spot, and it was followed by Chile and China.
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 producers are doing their best to meet rising demand from energy storage and electric vehicles — that said, worldwide lithium supply declined roughly 19 percent from 2018 to 2019, coming in at 77,000 metric tons (MT) of lithium content last year, not including US production.
Read on for a brief overview of the eight countries that produced the most lithium in 2019. 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.
Mine production: 42,000 MT
Kicking off our lithium production by country 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.
Mine production: 18,000 MT
Chile was another of the world’s top 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).
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.
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.
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.”
Mine production: 1,200 MT
Portugal produces much less lithium than the five countries ahead of it on this list. But last year it put out 1,200 MT of the metal, a jump from the 800 MT it produced in 2018.
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.
Mine production: 300 MT
The next largest in terms of lithium production by country is Brazil, whose output came in at 300 MT for the second year in a row. While lithium reserves in Brazil are small, the country does have deposits in the Minas Gerais and Ceará areas. Again, its reserves, which stand at 95,000 MT, are more impressive than its output, so the country potentially has a long lifespan for lithium output at the current pace.
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 five 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.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Priscila Barrera, 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.