Lithium is a soft, silvery-white alkali metal, with the chemical symbol of “Li.” It is used in a range of industrial applications, including heat-resistant glass and ceramics, lubricants, and flux additives for iron and steel production. However, more recently its main use has been in lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles and battery storage.
Lithium is favoured for EV engines since it has a much higher energy density than other metals. As a result, less energy is needed to move a car, allowing for greater efficiency and longer travel distances.
Lithium analysts Benchmark Mineral Intelligence (BMI) project that the world will need 20 times more lithium by mid-century to meet the demand from energy storage and EVs. The analysts predict annual production of 11.2 million tonnes LCE (lithium carbonate equivalent) will be required by 2050, with energy storage making up two-thirds of battery demand by that date, due to the growth of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.
Near term, 2.9 million tonnes LCE will be needed by 2032, more than the 2.7 million tonnes of cumulative global lithium production between 2015 and 2022, according to BMI’s October 2022 forecast. Without recycling, 234 new lithium mines will be needed by 2050, compared to the 40 mines in production in 2022.
These forecasts highlight the need for new sources of lithium supply, particularly as North America seeks to build its own domestic battery supply chain, from mining to processing and manufacturing.