Market Snapshot: Growing battery demand spurs changes in global lithium markets

Release date: 2017-06-01

Lithium-ion batteries are becoming the dominant battery technology,Footnote 1 largely due to their favourable capacity-to-weight ratio. Lithium batteries already have widespread use in mobile phones and personal devices, but the quantity of lithium used for these applications is relatively small. Larger batteries, such as those in electric vehicles or to backup electrical grid power, require significantly more lithium and experts predict their increased use will have a large impact on lithium markets. Lithium prices have increased 100% since 2012, and industry analysts expect lithium demand to more than double by 2020.

As a result, companies are developing lithium resources across the world. Bolivia and Argentina are home to the largest resource bases, followed by Chile, China, and the U.S. Canada has approximately 2 million tonnes – about 4% of the world’s known lithium resources, although this number may increase as exploration continues.

Lithium Resources by Country as of 2016

Source and Description

Source: United States Geological Survey (Lithium Mineral Commodity Summaries for 2017)

Description: This pie chart shows lithium resources by country for 2016. Bolivia and Argentina hold the most resources with 9 million tonnes (19%) each. Chile has the third largest supply with 7.5 million tonnes (16%), followed by China with 7 million tonnes (15%) and the United States with 6.9 million tonnes (15%). Australia and Canada both have 2 million tonnes of lithium resources, accounting for about 4% of the world total of 47 million tonnes. Other countries with resources include: Congo, Russia, and Serbia (each at 1 million tonnes or 2%). All other countries account for 600,000 tonnes (1%).

Note: Listed resources for Australia and Chile are “more than” 2 million tonnes and 7.5 million tonnes, respectively. Since a specific value is not provided, 2 million and 7.5 million tonnes are used.

If demand for lithium metal remained around its current level of 37,800 tonnes, there are enough world resources to last over 1243 years, assuming all resources can technically and economically be developed and not accounting for mineral recycling. If demand increases by 250%, which industry analysts expect by 2020, 47 million tonnes of resources would last about 497 years.

Canada’s lithium resources are dispersed across the country. Mineral resources have been discovered in Québec, Ontario, Northwest Territories, Alberta, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Nunavut. Canada’s only producing lithium mine ceased production in 2014 but resumed production in March of 2017. Proposed new projects include five in Quebec and five in Manitoba. In addition, Canadian lithium battery manufacturing has also increased in response to growing global demand.

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