Lithium producers are adding new production capacity to meet booming demand for the critical metal as the world pushes for greener energy.
Suppliers of the key mineral have turned quite optimistic this year that global demand for lithium will soar in the coming decades with the increased uptake of electric vehicles (EVs) and battery storage.
Surging demand is set to drive lithium prices higher, lithium producers say in an outlook on the industry that turned decisively bullish this year.
One of the largest lithium suppliers in the world, China’s Ganfeng Lithium, is not ruling out the possibility that lithium prices could recover from the two-year decline and reach the record-highs seen in 2018.
Lithium prices have already surged this year from the lows of 2019-2020. But suppliers believe prices have a lot more room to rise as the push for green energy is overwhelming government agendas worldwide.
“The industry is rapidly growing and we have a very upbeat forecast on lithium consumption,” Ganfeng Lithium’s vice chairman Wang Xiaoshen told Bloomberg in an interview last week.
“I can’t rule out the possibility for lithium prices to bounce back to the 2018 level,” the executive added.
Ganfeng Lithium said earlier this year that it “is optimistic about the long-term development of the global lithium market,” and announced it would expand its production capacity.
“China’s Ganfeng Lithium has announced considerable plans to extend its reach in the lithium supply chain throughout the first half of 2021, remaining one of the most active players in targeting large commitments to build out its production capabilities,” Benchmark Mineral Intelligence said in a report last week.
The company’s vice chairman, however, is not ruling out another dip in lithium prices either, in the interview with Bloomberg. This could happen, he says, if the uptake of EV sales slows down or if major lithium producers bring much more supply faster than expected.
For now, though, it seems that analysts concur that lithium has a bright future, especially considering the net-zero emission commitments from dozens of industrialized nations and blocs, including the United States and the European Union.
Lithium demand for batteries for EVs and battery energy storage is set to jump until 2050—the net-zero watershed moment for most countries.
Lithium mined for batteries accounted for just 9 percent of all lithium produced back in 2000. But by 2020, the share of lithium produced for batteries had surged to 66 percent and is set to further jump to account for more than 90 percent of all lithium applications by 2030, according to estimates from IHS Markit.
“We continue to see strong market demand for lithium, especially from EVs,” Kent Masters, CEO at the biggest lithium producer in the world, Albemarle Corporation, said on the Q1 earnings call last month.
“We’re fighting to keep up with demand. I think the industry is doing the same,” he added.
Eric Norris, president for Albemarle’s Lithium division, noted that “We see price rising going forward for the foreseeable future.”
As per Rystad Energy estimates, the EV surge could lead to “a serious lithium supply deficit already from 2027.” The industry needs to approve very soon new lithium mining projects so that supply has a chance to catch up with demand.
“We anticipate that lithium prices could replicate their past turbulence if supplies cannot catch up with booming EV demand later this decade. Looking at the significant task ahead to build more mining capacity, prices could even triple as a result of the market imbalance,” said James Ley, Senior Vice President at Rystad Energy’s Energy Metals team.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the rise of clean energy technologies “is set to supercharge demand for critical minerals.” Lithium demand could jump by over 40 times by 2040 in the agency’s Sustainable Development Scenario, a pathway aligned with the world achieving the Paris Agreement goals.