Political and technological developments are expected to
shape the evolution of the global lithium industry until the
end of the decade, delegates at
IM’s 7th Lithium
Supply and Markets Conference heard in Shanghai, China, in
Daniela Desormeaux, general manager of
Chile-based market intelligence firm, SignumBox, told the
conference that Chile is eager to retain its position as the
world’s leading lithium supplier with the help of
The country supplies 60-65% of the global lithium
carbonate market and its lithium resources have been officially
protected for 40 years, after the Chilean government declared
it a strategic mineral in 1975.
This was followed by a raft of policies designed
to foster the sector’s maturation, including
auctions for contracts to exploit lithium brines in the
country’s salars and the establishment of the
National Lithium Commission in 2014.
The implementation of progressive policies has
not always been plain sailing, however, with the September 2012
lithium tender becoming mired in controversy after the winner,
Sociedad Quimica y Minera (SQM), was stripped of the contract
less than a month after the auction, owing to outstanding legal
issues between the company and the Chilean state.
In January this year, a number of fresh measures
were proposed to the Chilean president, Michelle Bachelet, and
Desormeaux said that a new lithium policy is likely to be
announced in the near future.
David Merriman, senior analyst at UK-based
Roskill Information Service, discussed how, thanks to
government backing and the richness of Chile’s
lithium resources, the global lithium industry is presently
dominated by Chile-operating heavyweights, but said that
challengers to the established market players are looking to
shake up the lithium supply chain.
According Qiang Chen, general manager of China
Energy Lithium Co., growth in demand for lithium is likely to
come from the energy storage sector, as there is currently
insufficient capacity to retain generated energy for use on
Chen said that the next generation of energy
storage batteries could be made of lithium metal or
lithium-sulphur, which could lead to a doubling of lithium
demand. According to his calculations, 3,000 tonnes of lithium
metal produced last year required 20,000 tonnes of lithium
China Energy Lithium is working with institutes
both within and outside of China to develop new types of energy
storage batteries. Chen pointed out that lead batteries have
been used for 150 years and while 95% of the volume of these
batteries can be recycled, lithium-based materials cannot
currently be reused.
As the technology develops, lithium battery
recycling may be realised in the future, he said.