Chile isn’t the world’s top lithium producer, but it holds the largest lithium reserves by far. Learn which other countries have high reserves.
Those interested in the lithium sector are often curious about which countries produce the most of the battery metal. Why? Because major lithium-producing countries are often home to a large number of lithium companies.
What investors may not think to consider are lithium reserves by country. While many of the world’s top lithium producers also hold significant reserves of the metal, some countries produce little lithium but have very large reserves of the mineral.
Investors may want to be aware of this second group of countries, as they could eventually become lithium powerhouses.
Diverse analysts believe lithium demand will continue to increase in the coming years. That’s because together with other metals such as cobalt, lithium is key raw material in the lithium-ion batteries used to power electric vehicles; it is also essential for the energy storage sector. However, lithium supply to meet that increasing demand is still uncertain.
On that note, here’s an overview of lithium reserves by country, with a focus on the four countries that hold the most lithium. Data is based on the most recent information from the US Geological Survey.
Lithium reserves: 8,600,000 MT
Chile was the second biggest producer of lithium last year at 18,000 metric tons (MT), but it has the most lithium reserves in the world by a large amount.
The country reportedly holds most of the world’s “economically extractable” lithium reserves, and its Salar de Atacama hosts approximately 37 percent of the world’s lithium reserve base. SQM (NSYE:SQM) is a key lithium producer in Chile’s Salar de Atacama, and in 2018 it finally reached a long-awaited agreement with Corfo, Chile’s development agency, over royalties. It’s expected that the company’s lithium production capacity will be positively impacted by this resolution.
Albemarle (NYSE:ALB) is another top lithium producer in Chile. Despite short-term volatility, the company is optimistic about long-term lithium demand.
Lithium reserves: 2,800,000 MT
Interestingly, while Australia was the largest lithium-producing country in the world in 2019, it is second in terms of reserves.
The country is home to the Greenbushes lithium project, which is operated by Talison Lithium, a subsidiary jointly owned by lithium producers Tianqi Lithium (SZSE:002466) and Albemarle. The project is known as the longest continuously operating mining area, having been in operation for over 25 years. There are multiple expansions taking place at Greenbushes currently.
Lithium reserves: 1,700,000 MT
Argentina is the fourth largest lithium producer in the world, and last year it put out 6,400 MT of the metal, the same amount as in 2018. It also ranks third in lithium reserves in the world, at 1,700,000 MT. Putting that into perspective, the Financial Post notes that the country has enough lithium reserves to feed global demand for roughly 300 years.
It’s worth noting that Chile, Argentina and Bolivia comprise the “Lithium Triangle,” which hosts more than half of the world’s lithium reserves. However, while there is a great deal of lithium in the ground in Argentina, lithium extraction is another story. Only time will tell if the country will be able to harvest it economically as the lithium industry continues to heat up.
Lithium reserves: 1,000,000 MT
China holds lithium reserves of 1,000,000 MT, but last year it produced just 7,500 MT of the mineral. That is a 400 MT increase in production from 2019, but currently the Asian nation still imports most of the lithium it needs from Australia. That said, the US Geological Survey notes that China is looking to expand its lithium supply moving forward.
While lithium production in China is comparatively low, the country’s lithium consumption is high 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.
Last year, both spot lithium carbonate prices and spot lithium hydroxide prices in China decreased. After lithium is extracted from lithium deposits, it is often processed into a lithium compound, usually lithium carbonate or lithium hydroxide, and then is used in lithium-ion batteries.
Other lithium reserves by country
While Chile, Australia, Argentina and China are home to the world’s highest lithium reserves, other countries also hold significant amounts of the metal. Here’s a quick look at the other countries:
- United States — 630,000 MT
- Canada — 370,000 MT
- Zimbabwe — 230,000 MT
- Brazil — 95,000 MT
- Portugal — 60,000 MT
Overall, total worldwide lithium reserves stand 17,000,000 MT. If the lithium industry continues to grow, global lithium production will need to follow and perhaps some of these countries with high reserves will become more significant players.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Priscila Barrera, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.