The above infographic lists the world’s largest mining companies of the white metal by market capitalization.
Where Does Lithium Come From?
There are two primary sources to obtain lithium:
- Brine: Lithium brine deposits are accumulations of saline groundwater enriched in dissolved lithium. Although abundant in nature, only select regions in the world contain brines, mostly in South America.
- Mineral/Hard Rock: Lithium found in ‘hard rock’ is a part of minerals hosted in pegmatites, rock units formed when mineral-rich magma intrudes from magma chambers into the Earth’s crust. As the magma cools, water and other minerals become concentrated.
Lithium can also be extracted from lithium clays, but there’s still no commercial scale of production for this method of extraction.
Here’s a look at lithium resources and production by country:
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, four mineral operations in Australia, two brine operations each in Argentina and Chile, and two brine and one mineral operation in China accounted for the majority of global lithium production in 2021.
The Largest Lithium Miners
The world’s largest lithium producer, Albemarle Corporation, operates at the Chilean resource of Salar de Atacama in partnership with the second biggest producer, Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile (SQM). Salar de Atacama is home to almost a quarter of the world’s current supply of lithium and has been in operation since the 1980s.
Albemarle also has assets in Nevada, U.S., and Australia. Its Clayton Valley operation is the only source of lithium production in the United States.
While Australia and Chile account for the majority of the lithium supply, China has more than half of all capacity for refining it into specialized battery chemicals.
As part of the country’s efforts to dominate the clean energy metals supply chain, three Chinese companies are also among the top lithium mining companies. The biggest, Tianqi Lithium, has a significant stake in Greenbushes, the world’s biggest hard-rock lithium mine in Australia.
Lithium Supply Security
Between 2000 and 2010, lithium consumption in batteries increased by 20% annually. In the following decade, that figure jumped to 107% per year for batteries, with overall lithium consumption growing 27% annually on average.
Demand for lithium is forecast to almost triple by mid-decade from last year’s level, according to BloombergNEF.
Therefore, lithium supply security has become a top priority for tech companies in Asia, Europe, and the United States.
Read more: Lithium price jumps to fresh all-time high
(This article first appeared in the Visual Capitalist Elements)