Lithium is an essential resource used in the production of batteries, and certain countries are particularly rich in this (in)valuable metal. From Chile to Australia, some hold vast reserves of lithium that can be mined, while others rather focus on the transformation of raw materials into valuable resources. Let’s take a closer look at some of the top lithium-rich countries and the ones that may join the club in the future.
Table of contents
- Who are the Main Producers of Raw Lithium in 2023?
- Who are the main producers of refined lithium in 2023?
- Which country has the largest reserves of Lithium?
- Lithium expansion in New Countries
Who are the Main Producers of Raw Lithium in 2023?
The United States Geological Survey is the reference in lithium production reporting. And by USGS’ count, we still had a very limited club of countries producing lithium on a relevant scale in 2022 (and ongoing in 2023).
Australia is the largest producer of Lithium as of 2023, with 47% of the World’s extraction essentially coming from its six active spodumene mines located in Western Australia.
In the coming decade, Argentina is expected to take a much more prominent role in Lithium production, as it has high resources but also a lot of prospective projects in development in the country. Yet, as of today, it only represents 5% of the World’s production.
The historical “other lithium player” has a different approach than Australia. While down under, production comes from Spodumene extraction in open-pit mines, Chile relies on evaporation ponds that concentrate lithium-rich mines found in the Atacama desert.
It leads Chile at the second rank in Lithium production, with 30% of the World’s output.
An early mover in the Lithium World – and a global expert in refining, as we’ll see in a minute, China nevertheless reaches the limits of its internal resources. While leveraging both mining and evaporation ponds techniques, the country “only” produces 15% of the World’s raw lithium.
With only one active mine in the heart of Nevada, the United States are a relatively small actor in lithium extraction with only 4% of the global output. If this may be changing in the future under the lead of new projects in the lithium pipe, that’s the situation as of 2023.
All further production in the World are quite anecdotic, at least on the global scale of things
With one active mine, Brazil is the biggest of the others, by producing 1.7% of the total lithium.
Europe’s largest representative – a position that may last – Portugal produces 0.5% of our planet’s lithium output.
Canada is very active in the development of new lithium projects and is rich in companies that irrigate the industrial space. Yet, as of today, it only produces 0.4% of the “white oil.”
Among this top, Zimbabwe is the only country whose production is declining, with only 0.5% of the lithium output by the latest count. New projects are in development, though.
Who are the main producers of refined lithium in 2023?
The lithium picture slightly evolves when we integrate lithium refining into the equation. Indeed, the World’s largest producer (Australia) has a history of not refining its minerals on-shore. And if this may change in the future, it paints a quite different picture as of today:
China’s Dominance – thanks to its International Assets
Historically, Chinese players have partnered with Australian mines. The deal was, that China would offtake the production of the mine and pay in advance, hence financing the mine’s operations. As a result, spodumene concentrate (SC6) has been historically produced down under and put on ships to be sent to China where it got refined.
If the situation is getting more and more nuanced, as the relationships between both countries suffered in the last years, China has been able to compensate for the decline in Australian imports through new assets it secured in South America and is currently developing in Mexico or Africa.
As a result, today China refines 68% of the World’s lithium!
Chile’s relative independence
Even though Chinese capital is invested in the historic Atacama developer, SQM, Chile refines itself 19% of the World’s output, most of it being lithium chloride – but more and more, also lithium hydroxide.
Australia grows an industry
In the early days of Lithium in Australia, barely a single gram of spodumene got refined on-shore. Even the production fo SC6 wasn’t given in the early ages when rocks were carried as is up to distant China.
More and more, though, the local players are climbing up the value chain and getting into lithium refining. This is how today, Australia weights 5% of the global refined “white oil,” and that share will continue going up in the next years.
Argentina, at its own pace
Exactly as Argentina is slow to increase its lithium production – despite having a very rich underground – it is slowly ramping up its refining output. That’s how they represent 3% of the global market today.
Far from the dominance of Tesla in the EV World, the USA are a minor lithium player today. And if that may change in the future, as of now, they only refine 3% of the World’s output.
Rest of the World
Other assets are very scattered as of today. Again, that’s a picture that will evolve if lithium refineries start to be built next to battery gigafactories. Still, in today’s reality, only 2% of the “white oil” refining happens in the rest of the World.
Which country has the largest reserves of Lithium?
Surprisingly, the largest reserves in the World are located in a country that’s nowhere to be found in the list of producers as of 2023. How is that possible? Well, that’s what happens when you traumatize a region with bad colonial practices; let me explain.
Bolivia – still recovering from the Spanish Gold Era
Bolivia holds some of the world’s largest untapped reserves of lithium, estimated at around 9 million tonnes. Similarly to its neighbors Argentina and Chile, those are located in salt flats, still largely untapped (what an understatement, right?).
For political motives, Bolivia’s government has not yet made any decisive move to exploit its reserves, as they want to ensure that it is as much as possible made by locals for locals. Even if a nationwide tender is under development, its results are still far from being reached, and it will need more years to find a winner.
The Lithium Triangle
The “Lithium Triangle” is a term used to refer to a region of Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile. This area contains some of the largest lithium reserves in the world, with potentially over two-thirds of the future global supply.
It is sometimes referred to as the “Saudi Arabia of Lithium” due to its enormous potential for lithium production, but it is still largely untapped.
Australia is believed to contain the world’s second-largest reserves of lithium, with estimates ranging from 9 to 11 million tonnes. Australia has been one of the few countries able to effectively exploit its lithium reserves and, as a result, has become one of the top global suppliers of this metal.
Lithium expansion in New Countries
According to my research, and until further notice, there are 12 more countries that should become producers of lithium between now and the end of the decade.
To get the details of all these undertakings, have a look at my announced lithium projects tracker – I’m updating it as often as needed!
For now, I’ve recorded activities in Spain, Finland, Austria, the Czech Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Germany, Ghana, Mali, Mexico, Namibia, Peru, and Zimbabwe, on top of the countries already listed above!