What is Lithium?
Where is it produced?
South America accounted for 60% of world output of lithium in 2008, followed by Australia and China which combined produced 30% of the total. Two-thirds of the world production was from brines and one-third from lithium minerals.
The industry was once dominated by two major U.S. pegmatite (hard rock mineral) producers, until a third producer from Chile started production in the 1980s of various salts from brine, including lithium carbonate. In many cases, primary production from brines is potassium compounds (potash) with lithium produced as a by-product. As a result of extensive exploration for brine deposits, prompted by lithium production development first in Nevada and later Chile, several deposits were identified and explored in Argentina, Bolivia, China and Tibet.
This shift in sources led to the shutdown of the U.S. pegmatite operations; however some pegmatites from Australia, Canada and Zimbabwe, that contain high-grade spodumene and petalite, continue to be important sources of lithium mineral concentrates for the ceramic and glass industry and other applications.
The market is expected to grow and it is anticipated that new incremental sources of lithium will be required to meet the growth in demand that is predicted for battery applications. Battery manufacturers are expected to be looking for new lithium sources that can provide a long term supply of high quality lithium carbonate, are scalable to keep pace with demand growth, and provide geographic diversity of supply.