Flexibility key for lithium industry, executives say

By IM Staff
Published: Friday, 30 August 2019

Having the capacity to produce either lithium carbonate or hydroxide is essential to the commercial survival of projects industry delegates have heard.

With lithium hydroxide’s share of the global lithium chemicals market continuing to grow, industry participants expect the material to overtake lithium carbonate as the preferred choice of compound used in lithium-ion (li-ion) batteries within the next decade.

"We need to be prepared [to supply] either product," Pablo Altimiras, vice president of lithium and iodine business for Chile’s SQM, said at Fastmarkets’ 11th Lithium Supply and Markets Conference in Santiago in June. "Hydroxide consumption is growing more rapidly than carbonate, but we will still have high levels of carbonate demand for many years."

Managing this production flexibility will require producers to work closely with customers to understand and anticipate their requirements, because most battery-grade lithium materials are essentially bespoke products.

"Demand for… specific products will depend on the evolution of the battery market," David Ryan, vice president for corporate strategy and investor relations at US lithium producer Albermarle, said.

"We see a more significant shift to hydroxide," he added, "but carbonate will always be a great part of our portfolio."