The steep price drop in lithium between 2010 and 2020 would lead to growing affordability of Li-ion batteries thus bringing down the price electric vehicles, pushing consumers towards purchase of EVs
Largely benefiting from the rocketing electric vehicle (EV) demand that are powered by lithium-ion batteries, the global lithium mining market is set for a leapfrog between 2021 and 2025. The latest market study of Fairfield Market Research clearly projects a whopping 26.3 per cent CAGR for lithium mining market value over the forecast period as it is poised to reach a valuation of US$1,630.30 Mn by 2025. Brines remain the most cost-efficient source of the metal over hard rock or spodumene, which remains a strong factor sustaining the market potential of lithium mining.
The report further suggests that as the application of lithium expands to cover a range of aluminium products, glass, ceramics, polymers, lubricating greases, and Li-ion batteries for EVs, mining activities will continue to witness a heavy upsurge. Lithium is also utilised in air treatment applications, thereby pushing the demand further. The prices saw a fall for the entire decade till 2020 because of oversupply and slight fall in electric vehicle sales that year.
Dubbed as ‘white gold’, lithium mining has its trappings. Lithium is an alkaline metal, found in compounds and in a highly reactive state. This makes its extraction water-intensive. For instance, about 500,000 gallons of water is required to produce one tonne of lithium. The issue is exacerbated by the risk of toxic chemicals leaking from evaporation pools that are used for extracting lithium from a muddy sludge that includes manganese, borax, and potassium, resulting in polluted local water supplies. Over the years, this has raised concerns about indigenous communities getting displaced due to water shortages and risking lives due to exposure to poor environment. Thus, the socio-economic issues related to mining lithium have resulted in a heated debate about its sustainability while the world scrambles to find alternatives to fossil fuels.
Steep price drop in lithium between 2010 and 2020
Research in this area indicates that the steep price drop in lithium between 2010 and 2020 would lead to growing affordability of Li-ion batteries thus bringing down the price electric vehicles, pushing consumers towards purchase of EVs. Mining activities are most likely to receive a strong impetus from this in the near future. After an abrupt halt in 2020, EV and hybrid EV sales are regaining the pace, which is working in favour of lithium miners once again. Leading miners are focused on improving their control along value chains to augment margins as the momentum of EV market builds up, even the demand could outweigh supply in future.
“With EVs becoming more prevalent, poised to enter the mainstream soon, especially in key markets across the globe, there is a lot of reliance on lithium supply. Lithium will continue to garner the interest of chemicals companies, battery companies, automakers, and even governments given this backdrop. All these elements of the industry are thus amplifying their investments in or entering partnerships with miners or key suppliers of the raw material itself,” reads the report.
Besides, lithium consumption continues to record strong growth in volume within the various other application segments in air generation such as miners, submarines, space vehicles, and safety devices. High thermal resistance and excellent performance that lithium offers make it an ideal material to be used in cooling and dehumidification applications. Increasing installations of absorption chillers by end users such as educational institutes, spas and wellness centres, shopping malls, and hospitals will thus drive lithium demand, giving a solid impetus to lithium mining market players.
Lithium sales targeting consumer electronics industry are particularly driving the North American market, whereas escalating demand from batteries, lubricants, glass, and air conditioning equipment sectors is fuelling the market in Asia Pacific. Australia, the largest home to concentrated deposits of this white metal, secures more than 50 per cent share in global production of lithium, which was recorded at around 77,000.0 metric tons in 2019.
China stands tall as the next largest market, says the report. On other hand, the Lithium Triangle (Chile-Argentina-Bolivia), despite having voluminous reserves, continues to flunk when it comes to contributing to the global production volume. This is attributable to severe water shortages that lead to greater complications during lithium extraction across the entire cluster, which is preventing these markets from demonstrating their full potential in global marketplace.