What were the top lithium-producing countries in 2021? Australia took the top spot, and it was followed by Chile and China.
In total, about 74 percent of the lithium currently produced goes toward battery production, but other industries also consume the metal. For example, 14 percent of lithium is used in ceramics and glass, while 3 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 portable electronic devices, as well as in electric tools, EVs 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 important battery 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 EVs — in fact, worldwide lithium production rose sharply from 2020 to 2021, coming in at 100,000 metric tons (MT) of lithium content last year (not including US production), compared to 82,500 MT in 2020.
Read on for an overview of the top eight lithium-producing countries in 2021. If the EV market continues to grow, and if lithium-ion batteries continue their reign as the top batteries for EVs, it’s likely that they will produce even more of the metal in years to come.
Mine production: 55,000 MT
Kicking off this top lithium-producing countries list is Australia. It produced 55,000 MT of lithium content last year, up significantly from 39,700 MT the year before, when lithium production was impaired by COVID-19 lockdowns. GlobalData forecasts that Australia's lithium production will increase a further 24.5 percent in 2022 as mines expand production to meet demand.
Australia hosts the Greenbushes lithium asset, which is operated by Talison Lithium, a subsidiary that is jointly owned by major miners Tianqi Lithium (SZSE:002466) and Albemarle (NYSE:ALB). Greenbushes is the longest continuously running mining area in Western Australia, having been in operation for over 25 years.
Australia also holds over 3.8 million MT of identified JORC-compliant lithium reserves, according to the US Geological Survey, which puts it behind Chile. It is worth noting that most of the country’s lithium supply is exported to China as spodumene.
Mine production: 26,000 MT
Chile was another top lithium producer in 2021, with its output increasing from 21,500 MT of lithium content in 2020 to 26,000 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.
Mine production: 14,000 MT
China came third for lithium production in 2021, beating Argentina significantly. The Asian country saw its lithium supply grow slightly to 14,000 MT last year from 13,300 MT the year prior.
While lithium production in China is comparatively low, it is the largest consumer of lithium due to its electronics manufacturing and EV industries. It also produces more than three-quarters of the world’s lithium-ion batteries and controls most of the world’s lithium-processing facilities. China currently gets the majority of its lithium from Australia, but it is looking to expand its capacity.
Mine production: 6,200 MT
Lithium producer Argentina’s output ticked up by 300 MT from 2020, achieving production of 6,200 MT in 2021.
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. Two brine operations are currently in production and 13 projects are in development, with several others in the pipeline.
Mine production: 1,500 MT
Lithium production in Brazil has taken off in the last several years, catapulting it onto the list of the top lithium-producing countries. After achieving output of 400 MT or less from 2011 to 2018, the country’s production hit 2,400 MT in 2019. However, Brazil's lithium production has scaled back the last two years under COVID-19.
Brazil's government plans to invest more than US$2.1 billion by 2030 into expanding the nation's lithium production capacity. Companies like Sigma Lithium (TSXV:SGML,NASDAQ:SGML) and Norway’s AMG Critical Materials are expected to add to output.
Mine production: 1,200 MT
Like Brazil, Zimbabwe has seen its lithium output increase dramatically. The African nation’s production has remained flat in the past few years, producing 1,200 MT of the battery metal. China's Sinomine Resource Group (SZSE:002738) recently acquired the country's only lithium producer, which allegedly holds the world’s largest-known lithium deposit at over 11 million MT. The company has plans to invest US$200 million into expanding the mine's production capacity by another 2 million MT per year; the investment will also allow to mine to produce lithium spodumene.
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.” Total reserves in Zimbabwe stand at 220,000 MT, as per the US Geological Survey.
Mine production: 900 MT
Portugal produces slightly less lithium than the six countries ahead of it, with its output staying fairly stable at 900 MT each year. 2020 saw a drop to 348 MT on COVID-19 lockdowns, but its lithium output rebounded to normal levels in 2021.
Most of the European nation'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: withheld
In the final place on this top lithium-producing countries list is the US, which has 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,NASDAQ:PLL) hard-rock lithium project and Standard Lithium’s (TSXV:SLI,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, Melissa Pistilli, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.
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