Lithium production by country (1995-2020)

Graph: lithium production by country

Lithium is often dubbed “the white gold” for the development of electric vehicles.

While several countries have committed to phasing out new gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles by 2040, recent growth in electric vehicle (EV) adoption has fueled a global boom in lithium production.

For this reason, the production of lithium more than doubled between 2016 and 2020, going from 40,000 tonnes to 86,300 tons.

The infographic above from our sponsor Scotch Creek Ventures traces 25 years of lithium production by country from 1995 to 2020.

A brief history of lithium mining

Countries began producing significant quantities of lithium after World War II, with an average annual production of 5,000 tons between 1955 and 1980.

The United States was by far the largest lithium producer until 1995, followed by Zimbabwe and Australia. From 1995 to 2010, Chile became the main producer with a boom in lithium mining in the Salar de Atacama, the largest salar in the country.

Lithium production increased steadily between 1995 and 2010, from 9,500 tonnes to 28,000 tons. But the advent of rechargeable batteries and electric vehicles has brought a new wave of demand, fueling an exponential increase in production.

The largest lithium producing countries

Today, three countries (Australia, Chile and China) exploit approximately 86% global lithium.

Country Lithium production 2020* (tons) % of world total
Australia 🇦🇺 40,000 46.3%
Chile 🇨🇱 20,600 23.9%
China 🇨🇳 14,000 16.2%
Argentina 🇦🇷 6,200 7.2%
Brazil 🇧🇷 1,900 2.2%
Zimbabwe 🇿🇼 1,200 1.4%
WE 🇺🇸 900 1.0%
Portugal 🇵🇹 900 1.0%
Rest of the world 🌍 500 0.6%
Total 86,300 100%

* Production total may not total 86,300 due to rounding.

Lithium mining in Australia relies primarily on hard rock mines that produce spodumene concentrate, which is then converted into lithium. On the other hand, the majority of Chilean production comes from salt brines with a high concentration of lithium.

China, the third-largest lithium producer, has been at the forefront of the lithium race. Since 2018, Chinese companies have taken over more than $5 billion value of lithium mining projects in various countries. In addition, the country also dominates the refining and battery manufacturing stages of the lithium-ion supply chain.

In contrast, the United States produced around 900 tons of lithium in 2020, which is only 1% of global production. This is partly because the country has only one producing lithium mine in Nevada, although it is home to the fifth largest lithium reserves in the world at 750,000 tons.

Since 2015, global lithium production has, on average, increased by 27% annually. How will this change in the future?

The future of lithium production

Global electric vehicle sales more than doubled in 2021 with 6.7 million new car registrations, bringing the EV market share to 8.6% worldwide. This growth, in addition to several administrative plans that support EVs, suggests that lithium will likely be in high demand over the next decade.

According to S&P Global, lithium demand is expected to reach 2 million tons by 2030. This demand would require an increase in production of more than 2200% from 2020 levels.

As lithium needs grow, exploration will play a key role in unlocking new sources of production, especially in countries like the United States, which are currently lagging in the lithium race.

Scotch Creek Ventures is developing two lithium mining projects in Clayton Valley, Nevada to provide lithium for a green future.

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