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Lithium Resources and Production: Critical Assessment and Global Projections

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This paper critically assesses if accessible lithium resources are sufficient for expanded demand due to lithium battery electric vehicles. The ultimately recoverable resources (URR) of lithium globally were estimated at between 19.3 (Case 1) and 55.0 (Case 3) Mt Li; Best Estimate (BE) was 23.6 Mt Li. The Mohr 2010 model was modified to project lithium supply. The Case 1 URR scenario indicates sufficient lithium for a 77% maximum penetration of lithium battery electric vehicles in 2080 whereas supply is adequate to beyond 2200 in the Case 3 URR scenario. Global lithium demand approached a maximum of 857 kt Li/y, with a 100% penetration of lithium vehicles, 3.5 people per car and 10 billion population.
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Minerals 2012,2, 65-84; doi:10.3390/min2010065 OPEN ACCESS
minerals
ISSN 2075-163X
www.mdpi.com/journal/minerals
Article
Lithium Resources and Production: Critical Assessment and
Global Projections
Steve H. Mohr 1,2,*, Gavin M. Mudd 1and Damien Giurco 2
1Environmental Engineering, Department of Civil Engineering, Monash University, Clayton,
VIC 3800, Australia
2Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology,Sydney, Ultimo, NSW 2007, Australia
*Author to whom correspondence should be addressed; E-Mail: steve.mohr@uts.edu.au;
Tel.: +61-2-9514-9041; Fax: +61-2-9514-4941.
Received: 12 January 2012; in revised form: 20 February 2012 / Accepted: 13 March 2012 /
Published: 19 March 2012
Abstract: This paper critically assesses if accessible lithium resources are sufficient for
expanded demand due to lithium battery electric vehicles. The ultimately recoverable
resources (URR) of lithium globally were estimated at between 19.3 (Case 1) and
55.0 (Case 3) Mt Li; Best Estimate (BE) was 23.6 Mt Li. The Mohr 2010 model was
modified to project lithium supply. The Case 1 URR scenario indicates sufficient lithium
for a 77% maximum penetration of lithium battery electric vehicles in 2080 whereas supply
is adequate to beyond 2200 in the Case 3 URR scenario. Global lithium demand approached
a maximum of 857 kt Li/y, with a 100% penetration of lithium vehicles, 3.5 people per car
and 10 billion population.
Keywords: lithium resources; lithium supply; electric vehicle demand
1. Introduction
The aim of this article is to examine lithium sources to determine if lithium is sufficiently abundant
to meet a possibly significant increase in demand from electric vehicles using lithium ion batteries. This
work is not claiming that lithium ion based electric vehicles will dominate the automotive industry,
but instead intends to determine if lithium ion vehicles were to dominate demand, is there sufficient
lithium. Before commencing it will be necessary to provide some definitions of terms used throughout
Minerals 2012,266
this paper. In order to answer this question, historic and literature forecasts of lithium supply and demand
will be presented in Section 2. Next, lithium resources and reserves are discussed in Section 3and the
Ultimately Recoverable Resources determined in Section 4. Next, a model describing the approach to
lithium supply and demand used here is described in Section 5and three projections of lithium supply
and one projection of lithium demand will be presented in Section 6. Finally, Section 7will analyse the
various projections of supply and compare and contrast it to projected demand.
Lithium is an alkali metal with atomic number 3; it is the lightest metal, and has a high specific heat
capacity. Lithium is produced from a variety of geological sources, e.g., minerals such as spodumene,
clays such as hectorite, salt lakes, and underground brine reservoirs etc. In order to simplify, two
broad categories of lithium sources will be defined and used throughout the paper, namely Rock and
Brine sources. Rock sources will cover lithium contained in rocks; specifically Rock sources include
mineral sources such as spodumene, amblygonite, jadarite, as well as clay sources of lithium such as
hectorite. Typical mineral deposits have a lithium content of around 0.5%–2% Li [1]. Often the lithium
from minerals is concentrated to around 2%–4% Li and used in the ceramics and glass industry [2].
Lithium rock production began with lithium minerals back in 1899 in the USA [2]. Brine sources,
includes lithium found inr salt water deposits, and include lakes, salars, oilfield brines, and geothermal
brines. Due to uncertainty surrounding the viability of extraction lithium from seawater, seawater is
currently excluded from brines. Typically, the brines are concentrated via evaporation ponds before
the lithium is precipitated in the form of lithium chloride or lithium carbonate [2]. In 1936, lithium
production from brines first commenced from the Searles Lake in the USA [2]. Since then brines with
high lithium concentrations have been exploited principally in South America and China. Oilfield brines
are underground brine reservoirs that are located with oil, e.g., Smackover formation in Arkansas/Texas.
Geothermal brines are underground brines naturally heated, e.g., in the Salton Sea California. Hectorite
is a lithium bearing clay predominately found in the McDermitt Caldera deposit of Nevada/Oregon.
Finally, jadarite is a newly discovered lithium-boron containing mineral found in Serbia [3].
In determining the amount of lithium that can be produced from these sources, the terms Resource,
Recoverable Resources and Ultimately Recoverable Resources will be used. First, the term Resource
is the amount of lithium that is physically in a geologic deposit, and the deposit is either currently
commercially feasible for extraction or is likely to be in the future. The Recoverable Resources is the
amount of the resource that is assumed to be extracted in the future (accounting for mining losses,
and resources left in the deposit due to issues such as depth, grade, etc.). The Ultimately Recoverable
Resources is the Recoverable resources plus all historic cumulative production. There are formal
guidelines for calculating reserve and resource estimates in some countries, such as the JORC Code
in Australia, NI 43-101 in Canada and SAMREC in South Africa, which all use the terms of ore reserves
and mineral resources in distinct ways. In strict terms, ore reserves are profitably mineable at present,
based on consideration of mining, metallurgical, economic, marketing, legal, environmental, social and
governmental factors. Mineral resources are similar to ore reserves but have had less assessment of
the above factors and are hence less certain as to profitability. In general, most mineral resources are
converted to ore reserves over time once a project is developed, mineral demands grow and so on. Given
this, estimates of Recoverable resources are independent of current factors (by definition) and hence it is
considered more appropriate to use for long-term modelling purposes.
Minerals 2012,267
2. Lithium Demand and Supply
2.1. Historic Production and Demand
Historic lithium production is available in the literature, and a large variety of sources [2,413] were
used to collate world lithium production statistics by individual countries. The historic production of
lithium is shown in Figure 1and the collation of the literature statistics is available in the electronic
supplement. Significant production of lithium only commenced after World War II. From 1955 to 1980
production was steady and averaged 5 kt Li/y, and the principal producers of lithium were the USA
and Zimbabwe. Since 1980 production has been increasing at an average rate of 5.1% per year, to reach
25 kt Li/y in 2008; and the principal producers today are Australia, China and Chile. The cumulative
amount of lithium produced to date is estimated at 0.5 Mt Li and has been split where possible into rock
and brine sources as shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1. World production of lithium by country and mineral type (blue colours are
rock, green colours are brines and red colours contain both rock and brine—see electronic
supplement for a spreadsheet file of these values) [2,413].
The percentage of worldwide lithium consumption by use is known [4] and assuming that historic
lithium production reflected lithium consumption (i.e., recycling, stockpiling etc. of lithium has been
negligible) then the amount of lithium consumption by use can be approximately determined as shown
in Figure 2. Currently, the main consumption of lithium is in the glass/ceramics manufacturing industry
where lithium lowers the melting point of the glass and ceramics [2], and for light weight lithium-ion
batteries. Lithium is also used in the production of aluminium, temperature tolerant lubricant greases,
catalysts for rubber manufacturing, air conditioning and a variety of other applications.
Minerals 2012,268
Figure 2. Recent world consumption of lithium, based on percent of uses (note: values prior
to 2000 could not be found in the literature; reporting of consumption became more detailed
in 2004) [4].
2.2. Forecasted Demand and Supply
There have been three literature projections of lithium supply and/or demand [1416].
McNulty and Khaykin have projected lithium demand and production to 2020 [14]. McNulty and
Khaykin estimate demand steadily growing to 37.7 kt Li/y by 2020 with an average growth rate of 7.4%
between 2008 and 2020, in comparison they project supply to reach only 27 kt Li/y in 2020 from 21 kt
Li/y in 2008 with an average growth rate of 2.1% between 2008 and 2020. The authors of this study
also estimate production in 2008 to be 24 kt Li/y. The method used by McNulty and Khaykin to project
supply and demand is not stated [14]. In addition, recycling is not mentioned in the report [14].
Angerer et al. [15] calculated two projections of lithium demand by assuming a 50% and 85%
penetration of lithium vehicles by 2050 and used a systems dynamics model to calculate demand
and recycling. The 50% and 85% penetration scenario have demand reaching 178 and 590 kt Li/y
in 2050 with a cumulative production between 2008 and 2050 of 3.6 and 9.0 Mt Li respectively. By
2050 Angerer et al. estimate that lithium recycling will reach 51 and 185 kt Li/y for the 50 and 85%
penetration scenarios [15]. Hence by 2050 primary lithium production will need to reach between 127
and 405 kt Li/y.
Carles modelled lithium supply, consumption and recycling using a stocks and flows model for
the world by source (brines, ores, recycling and sea water) to 2200 [16]. Most of the stocks and
flows scenarios project severe oscillation between brine and rock sources of lithium due to the energy
requirement to extract brines and rocks becoming equal. This is due to the model applying an on/off
control selecting the cheapest source of lithium, hence when prices are approximately equal instability
Minerals 2012,269
in the model can be generated [16]. The model indicates that non-seawater primary lithium production
will reach a level of 0.61–1.40 Mt Li/y between 2050 and 2090 (after this time, production oscillates).
Further, recycling is projected to plateau at 1.04 Mt Li/y between 2100 and 2200 and annual consumption
is anticipated to plateau at 1.7 Mt Li/y between 2110 and 2200 [16].
The long term projections of lithium by Carles and by Angerer et al. assume or project lithium
production reaching very large rates from 127 kt Li/y to 1400 kt Li/y [15,16]. In order to see whether
the uncertainty from literature projections can be reduced, it is important to look closely at the lithium
supply and demand.
3. Lithium Deposits
The review of lithium resource and reserve estimates have been split into Brine and Rock sources.
As mentioned in the definitions section, Brine refers to lakes, salars, oilfield brines and geothermal
brines, whereas Rock refers to minerals notably spodumene and jadarite as well as lithium bearing clays
generally termed hectorite.
3.1. Brines
Lithium brines are found principally in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, China and the USA [1,2,17,18].
Lithium brine deposits have several key geologic and/or geographic characteristics such as lithium grade,
the magnesium to lithium ratio, and the evaporation rate [1,2,17,18]. Higher grades of lithium and higher
evaporation rates decrease the amount of time the brines haveto be in evaporation ponds. Finally, lower
magnesium to lithium ratios reduce the cost of production, as lower ratios make it easier to separate the
magnesium from the lithium [14]. Table 1has lithium brine characteristics for various deposits.
Table 1. Brine basin information [1].
Country Deposit Li grade
(wt.%) Mg:Li
(-) Evaporation
rate(m/y) Elevation
(km) Surface area
(103km2)Porosity
(%) Depth
(m) Density
(g/cm3)Commenced
Argentina H. Muerto a0.062 1.37 2.6–2.8 3.7–4.3 565 15 15 1.2 1997–
Argentina Rincon 0.04 8.5 2.6 3.7 0.25–0.28 23–30 30–40 1.204 2011
Argentina Olaroz 0.07 2.8 2.6–2.8 0.12 6–8 b55 1.2 2012
Argentina Cauchari 0.051 2.84 3.95 1.215 NA c
Bolivia Uyuni 0.045 20 1.5 3.65 10 35 11–20 1.211 2014 d
Chile Atacama 0.15 6.4 3–3.7 2.3 3 18 e200 f1.223 1984–
Chile Maricunga 0.092 8 2.6 NA
China Zhabuye 0.1 0.001 2.3 4.42 0.243 0.7 1.297 2005–
China Qinghai g0.03 34+ 3.56 2.79 2004– h
China DXC 0.033 0.25 2.3 4.48 0.06 NA i7.6 NA j
USA Clayton k0.023 1.4 0.76–1.8 l1.3 0.08 1966–
USA Searles 0.0065 125 1 0.1 35 8 1.3 1936–1978
USA Great Salt Lake 0.004 250 1.8 NA 1.218 NA
Minerals 2012,270
Table 1. Cont.
Country Deposit Li grade
(wt.%) Mg:Li
(-) Evaporation
rate(m/y) Elevation
(km) Surface area
(103km2)Porosity
(%) Depth
(m) Density
(g/cm3)Commenced
USA Salton Sea m0.02 1.3 1.8 NA 0.017 NA 1.2 NA
Canada Fox Creek n0.01 10 NA 4 6–7 NA NA
USA Smackover n0.037 20 NA NA 1.2 NA
aHombre Muerto; btop 40–50m; cCurrently at planing stage; dThe current plan; edisputed, value is the
average for the upper 25 m [2]; fdisputed, there are claims the porosity is 0 after 35–40 m [2]; gIncluding
Taijinaier; hpilot plant commencement date; ibelieved to be a lake; jproject appears to have stalled; kSilver
Peak; lliterature reports a wide range of estimates; mGeothermal brine; nOilfield brine.
The Bolivian Salar de Uyuni is a very large lithium deposit [19]. Currently, only a small pilot plant
is in operation [20], with full scale production anticipated to commence in 2014 [21]. The Bolivian and
South Korean governments have agreed to develop the Salar de Uyuni [20] and the full scale production
capacity is anticipated to be 20–30 kt Li/year [19].
The Bolivian Government through Corporaci´on Minera de Bolivia (COMIBOL) has stated that Uyuni
has very large in situ resources of 350 Mt of lithium [22]. This claim has been investigated by Gruber
and Medina who critically examined the concentration, depth and porosity of the deposit [23,24]. Gruber
and Medina determined an average depth of 5.07 m, average lithium grade of 0.0532% Li and porosity
of 35% to determine that the in situ resources were 10 Mt Li. Based on the estimates by Gruber and
Medina, the COMIBOL’s claim of 350 Mt of in situ resources is unlikely to be correct unless further
testing reveals the depth of lithium resources to be an order of magnitude deeper than the Gruber and
Medina estimate of 5 m.
3.2. Rock
Lithium rock resources are found principally in Australia, Canada, USA, Democratic Republic of the
Congo (DR Congo) and Serbia [1,2,17,18,23]. Rock deposits are generally characterised by the lithium
grade of the deposit and by iron content (an impurity that is not desired by end users) [1,2,17,18,23].
Table 2has the characteristics of lithium rock deposits [1,17,18,23]. It is believed that there is potentially
a large spodumene deposit in Afghanistan [2], however due to considerable uncertainty on size and
characteristics of this deposit(s), Afghanistan has been excluded from the study.
Table 2. Rock deposit information [1].
Country Deposit Type a% Li Mine type bCommenced
Australia Greenbushes S 1.9 O 1982–
Australia Mt Marion S 0.65 2010
Australia Mt Cattlin S 0.5 O 2011
Austria Koralpe S 0.78 NA
Brazil Country V - 1943
Canada Bernic Lake S 1.28 R 1984–2009
Minerals 2012,271
Table 2. Cont.
Country Deposit Type a% Li Mine type bCommenced
Canada Wekusko S 0.79 NA
Canada La Corne S 0.52 O 2012
Canada La Motte S 0.5 O NA
Canada Sep. Rapids P 0.7 O NA
Canada Yellowknife
China Jaijika S 0.6 NA
China Gajika
China Maerkang
China Yichun L 2 O Unknown c
China Daoxin
DRC dManono S 0.6 NA
Finland Country S 0.5 2010
FSU eCountry - 1973
Mali Country A,S 1.4 1956–1970
Namibia Country A,L,P 0.93 1930–1998
Portugal Country V 0.57 f1925–
Serbia Country J 0.84 NA
S. Africa Country S - 1950–1974
USA N. Carolina gS 0.7 O 1943–1998
USA N. Carolina hS 0.7 NA
USA McDermitt H 0.33 O 2014
USA Rest H - NA
Zimbabwe Bikita V 1.4 1948
Total
aA = Amblygonite, H = Hectorite, J = Jadarite, L = Lepidolite, P = Petalite, S = Spodumene,
V = Various; bO = Open cut, R = Room and Pillar (type of underground mining technique,
where a considerable proportion of the ore is left behind to support the roof of the mine);
ccurrently operating; dDemocratic Republic of Congo; eFormer Soviet Union; f0.37–0.77;
gNorth Carolina developed; hNorth Carolina undeveloped.
The Greenbushes spodumene mineral deposit in Western Australia is currently the largest rock lithium
producer at 6.5 kt Li/y or approximately a quarter of the world’s lithium production (see electronic
supplement). The open cut mine had in 1993 an overburden ratio of 1.8:1 and a raw lithium grade of
1.86 wt.% [2]; further the iron content of the raw ore is 0.94% Fe2O3, which is slightly higher
than the North Carolina Spodumene belt iron content of 0.6%–0.9% Fe2O3[2]. The mine presently
sells concentrated and glass grade spodumene ore. A pilot plant built to produce lithium carbonate
was abandoned shortly after being commissioned due to it being uneconomical compared with brine
producers [2].
Minerals 2012,272
4. Ultimately Recoverable Resources
4.1. Literature Estimates
Ultimately Recoverable Resources estimates for lithium do not exist. As a result it is necessary to
estimate the URR via reserve and resource estimates instead.
4.2. Reserve and Resource Estimates
There are numerous reserve and resource (and various other terms see Table 3) estimated for the
world, and these are summarised in Table 3. The terms reserve, resource, recoverable resources,
broadbased reserves and in-situ resources were used by different literature sources and may not reflect
the definition of resources or reserve presented in this paper. Further, it is unclear as to what a broadbased
reserve used in [25] is defined. It should be noted that given the wide array of countries and deposits
included, the resource, reserve etc. estimates shown in Table 3are indicative only and not all may be
consistent with statutory mineral resource reporting codes such as Australia’s JORC code. They provide
a useful, if not the only, benchmark for comparison in any case [26].
Table 3. Lithium literature summary (Mt Li).
Cty aDeposit O b[27] [27] [1] [1] [18] [18] [17] [23] [5] [5] [25]
r R r R rr IR R R r R Br
ARG H. Muerto B 0.4 0.8 0.4 0.8 0.4 0.8 0.9 0.8
0.9
ARG Rincon B 0.3 0.5 1.4 2.8 0.8 1.9 1.4 1.1 2.6 6.0
ARG Olaroz B 0.2 0.3 0.1 0.3 0.1 0.3 0.3 0.2
ARG Cauchari B 0.5 0.9
AUS Greenbushes S 0.2 0.7 0.1 0.3 0.2 0.6 )0.60.6 1.6
AUS Mt Marion S - - - - -
AUT Koralpe S - 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1
BOL Uyuni B 0.6 5.5 3.6 8.9 2.5 5.5 5.5 10.2 9.0 5.4
BRA Brazil M 0.1 0.9 - 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.11.0 0.1
CAN Bernic Lake M - 0.1 - - -
CAN La Corne S 0.2 0.4 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.4 1.1
CAN Yellowknife M 0.1 0.1 - c
CAN Fox Creek O 0.3 0.5 0.5
CHL Atacama B 1.0 3.0 7.5 35.7 16.1 35.7 6.9 6.3 )7.5 7.5 7.5
CHL Maricunga B 0.2 0.4 0.1 0.2 0.2
CHN Zhabuye B 0.8 1.3 0.8 1.5 0.7 1.5
2.6
1.5
3.5
CHN Qinghai B 0.5 1.0 1.0 2.3 0.9 2.3 2.0
CHN DXC B 0.1 0.2 0.1 0.2 0.1 0.1 0.2
CHN Jaijika M 0.2 0.5 0.2 0.5
0.8
0.2 5.4 6.2
CHN Gajika M 0.3 0.6 0.3 0.6 0.6
CHN Maerkang M 0.2 0.5 0.1 0.2 0.2
CHN Yichun M 0.2 0.3 0.3
CHN Daoxin M 0.1 0.2 0.2
Minerals 2012,273
Table 3. Cont.
Cty aDeposit O b[27] [27] [1] [1] [18] [18] [17] [23] [5] [5] [25]
r R r R rr IR R R r R Br
COD Manono S 1.5 3.1 1.2 2.3 2.3 1.1 1.0 1.1
FSU FSU M 0.1 1.2 0.6 1.2 1.0 0.8 2.5
ISR Dead Sea B 2.0 0.9 2.0
SRB Serbia J 0.4 0.9 0.5 0.9 0.9 1.0 1.0 1.0
USA Silver peak B 0.1 0.3 - - - - - 0.3
-
USA G. Salt Lake B 0.5 0.3 0.5 0.2 0.5
USA Salton Sea B 1.0 0.3 1.0 0.5 1.0 1.0 1.3
USA N. Carolina S 1.2 2.6 1.6 3.1 2.8 5.5 4.0 6.6
USA Smackover O 1.0 0.5 1.0 0.5 1.0 0.8 0.8
USA US Hectorite H 1.1 2.0 1.0 2.0 2.0 2.0
Other V - 0.3 0.5 0.2 0.3 0.2 0.1 0.2
Total 3.9 17.4 23.1 71.3 29.6 64.7 29.8 38.3 13.029.0 39.4
B = Brine, H = Hectorite, J = Jadarite, M = Mineral, O = Oilfield brine, S = Spodumene,
V = Various, r = reserve, R = Resource, rr = recoverable resources, Br = Broadbased reserves,
IR = In-situ resources. aCountry, ISO ALAPHA-3 code used, except FSU which denotes the
Former Soviet Union; bOre type; cOther Canada.
Currently there has been considerable debate surround the resources, reserves etc. of
lithium [17,18,23,25,2729]. In particular Tahil in 2007 indicated that the total amount of recoverable
lithium reserves is 6.6 Mt Li [28]. Evans contested Tahil’s claims and indicated that lithium resources
were 28.4 Mt Li [29]. Tahil and Evans then revised their lithium resources with Tahil estimating a
resource of 17.4 Mt Li and Evans estimating 29.8 Mt Li [17,27]. Yaksic and Tilton in 2009 calculated
the in-situ resources of lithium to be 64.0 Mt Li [18]. Clarke and Harben determined that “broad
based reserves” (the precise definition of the term broad based reserve as used by Clarke and Harben
is unknown) of lithium were 39.4 Mt Li [25]. Similarly, Gruber and Medina recently calculated the
world’s lithium resource to be 38.3 Mt Li [23]. Finally, Mohr et al. recently estimated the world’s
lithium resources to be 50.2 Mt Li [1].
The estimate from Tahil [27] indicates a world reserve of 4 Mt (Li), whereas all other literature
estimates have the Atacama salar reserves alone as greater than 5 Mt (Li). The USGS reserve estimate
is also relatively low, however this is due to some countries such as Bolivia and USA being excluded.
The estimate by Tahil [27] also ignores the contribution of rock sources of lithium, despite Australian
spodumene production currently accounting for around 25% of total lithium production in the world. For
these reasons the estimate by Tahil [27] is assumed to be a significant underestimate the actual lithium
reserves, and ignored.
4.3. Estimated Ultimately Recoverable Resources
The lack of any literature proposing Ultimately Recoverable Resources (URR) estimates, means that
determining the URR is difficult. If historic production were considerable then empirical techniques
such as the Hubbert Linearisation technique [30] could be used to calculate the URR. However, because
Minerals 2012,274
cumulative production totals 0.5 Mt of Li compared to resources that are typically larger than 20 Mt
of Li, the URR will be estimated via literature reserve and resource estimates. The literature values
presented in Table 3will be used to estimate the recoverable resources. It should be stressed that the
literature estimates to date have been inconsistent in terms of definitions, and broadly speaking the use
of formal resource/reserve codes such as JORC or NI 43-101 have not been applied in general. Due to
this inherent uncertainty in current literature estimates, three scenarios were used in an attempt to create
upper and lower bounds on the ultimately recoverable resources in currently known deposits. It is highly
likely, given how very immature the lithium market is, that further deposits will be found.
The Case 1 estimate will attempt to underestimate the URR value by combining cumulative
production and the lowest reserve or resource estimate that is presented in the literature (ignoring
Tahil’s [27] estimates). The Case 3 estimate will try to overestimate the URR value by combining
cumulative production to the highest reserve or resource estimate that is in the known literature.
Mohr et al. [1] and Yaksic and Tilton [18] present two estimates: one which represented the resources in
the deposit and the other that reflects the portion that is recoverable resources or reserves. For this reason
the Case 3 estimate will ignore the resource estimates of Mohr et al. [1] and Yaksic and Tilton [18] and
only look at the recoverable resources or reserves estimates by these authors. Finally Case 2 represents
the URR values the authors cautiously assume to be correct giventhe current available information. The
Case 2 will combine cumulative production with the reserve estimate by Mohr et al. [1] and this value
will represent the authors’ best estimate to the actual URR value. Table 4displays the summary of the
URR estimates used for all countries and highlights the range is between 19.3 and 55.0 Mt of Li, with a
best estimate of 23.6 Mt of Li. It is reiterated strongly here that the use of literature resource and reserve
estimates to calculate the ultimately recoverable resources is due to the lack of resource estimated in the
literature based on JORC or other formal codes.
Table 4. Lithium assumed ultimately recoverable resources (Mt Li).
cty aDeposit O bCp cCase 1 Case 2 Case 3 cty aDeposit O bCp cCase 1 Case 2 Case 3
ARG rock M - - - - DEU Germany M - - - -
ARG H. Muerto B 0.016 0.383 0.416 0.866 KOR Korea M - - - -
ARG Rincon B 0 0.842 1.400 1.400 IRL Ireland M 0 0 0 0.013
ARG Olaroz B 0 0.140 0.140 0.300 ISR Dead Sea B 0 0 0 0.900
ARG Cauchari B 0 0.463 0.463 0.463 MLI Bougouni M 0 0.004 0.004 0.013
AUS L.derry P - - - - MOZ M.bique L - - - -
AUS R.thorpe S - - - - MOZ M.bique S - - - -
AUS Ubini A - - - - MOZ M.bique A - - - -
AUS Euriowie A - - - - MOZ M.bique P - - - -
AUS Finniss A - - - - NAM Karibib M 0.006 0.012 0.016 0.016
AUS G.bushes S 0.056 0.183 0.279 0.616 PRT Portugal A - - - -
AUS Mt Marion S 0 0.010 0.030 0.030 PRT Portugal l - - - -
AUS Mt Cattlin S 0 0.020 0.056 0.056 PRT Portugal M 0.006 0.011 0.016 0.016
AUT Koralpe S 0 0.010 0.010 0.113 SRB Serbia J 0 0.425 0.425 0.990
BOL Uyuni B 0 2.475 3.560 10.200 ZAF S. Africa A - - - -
BRA Brazil M 0.004 0.046 0.089 0.194 ZAF S. Africa S - 0.015 0.015 0.015
CAN Bernic L. M 0.014 0.024 0.033 0.033 ESP Spain M - - - -
Minerals 2012,275
Table 4. Cont.
cty aDeposit O bCp cCase 1 Case 2 Case 3 cty aDeposit O bCp cCase 1 Case 2 Case 3
CAN OldMines M 0.006 0.006 0.006 0.006 ESP Spain L 0.001 0.001 0.001 0.073
CAN Wekusko M 0 0.013 0.054 0.054 SUR Suriname A - - - -
CAN La Corne S 0 0.053 0.163 0.163 SWE Sweden P - - - -
CAN La Motte S 0 0.011 0.023 0.023 SWE Sweden S - - - -
CAN S. Rapids M 0 0.036 0.056 0.056 UGA Uganda A - - - -
CAN Y.knife M 0 0 0 0.065 USA Hist. prod. V 0.165 0.165 0.165 0.165
CAN Fox Creek O 0 0.258 0.258 0.515 USA Silver peak B 0 d0.018 0.020 0.300
CHL Atacama B 0.105 6.405 7.605 16.170 USA Searles L. B 0 d0 0 0.014
CHL Maricunga B 0 0.099 0.220 0.220 USA G. Salt L. B 0 d0.237 0.260 0.260
CHN China V 0.058 2.558 2.966 6.231 USA Salton Sea B 0 d0.316 0.316 1.316
COD Manono A 0.001 0.001 0.001 0.001 USA N. Carolina S 0 d1.230 1.230 5.454
COD Manono S - 1.145 1.500 2.300 USA Smackover O 0 0.450 0.500 0.750
CSK C.slovakia M - - - - USA Hectorite h 0 1.000 1.000 2.000
FIN Finland M 0 0.006 0.015 0.015 ZWE Bikita V 0.047 0.070 0.070 0.104
FRA France L - - - - Total 0.534 19.319 23.558 55.017
FSU FSU M 0.050 0.180 0.180 2.530
aCountry, ISO ALPHA 3 codes, except FSU which denotes Former Soviet Union; bOre type
A = Amblygonite, B = Brine, H = Hectorite, J = Jadarite, L = Lepidolite, l = Lithiophylite, M = Mineral,
O = Oilfield brine, P = Petalite, S = Spodumene, V = Various; cCumulative production 1900–2008;
dhistoric production accounted for in Hist. prod.
5. Future Scenarios: Forecasting Lithium Supply and Demand
The assumptions used in calculating the supply and demand will be described in this section. The
lithium market is in its infancy, hence there is considerable uncertainty in the assumptions on future
production, demand and recycling. For consistency the assumptions will be linked to the same source,
hence the most complete source will be used namely Angerer et al. [15,31]. As a result of this
considerable uncertainty, the demand and supply models are provided for readers in the electronic
supplement so that the assumptions can be modified by the reader quickly and easily as new information
becomes available.
5.1. Demand
One demand projection will be used in the analysis. The demand for lithium is difficult to project
due to the uncertainty over the growth and continuing popularity in lithium based electric vehicles. A
demand will be estimated in a simplistic format assuming that lithium based electric vehicles dominate
vehicle demand in the future. The reason for this selected demand is to determine if lithium supplies are
sufficient to meet this scenario, and not to claim that this scenario will occur, the authors recognise that
non-lithium batteries may become popular. The future demand for lithium therefore in the decades ahead
is anticipated, e.g., by Angerer et al., to be dominated by lithium batteries. Angerer et al. anticipate total
lithium demand in 2050 to be 178–590 kt Li/y with non-battery demand expected to be 50 kt Li/y. In
Minerals 2012,276
calculating the demand for lithium it was assumed that all demand for lithium is in electric vehicle using
lithium ion batteries. The demand for lithium batteries will be determined by calculating the number
of new electric vehicles produced in a given year and by assuming each car has a battery capacity of
20 kWh and that 0.15 kg of lithium is needed per kWh [31]. Hence 3 kg of lithium is assumed to be
needed for each electric vehicle. The number of electric cars to be built will be estimated by projecting
the future population of the world, the number of people per car and the number of cars that are electric
vehicles. First, the population of the world in billion p(t)is assumed to follow an asymmetrical S curve
and stabilise at 10 billion people (The asyummetrical S curve has been fitted in [32] to match as closely
as possible to the UN projections [33]) (pmax = 10) according to the following equation [32]:
p(t) = pmax pmin
[1 + e(pr(tpt))]1/2+pmin (1)
where pmin = 0.82 billion people, pr= 0.046y1and pt= 2015.8.
There are currently around 800 million cars in the world [15], representing 8.6 people per car in
the world (Cmax = 8.6). It is assumed that the number of people per car will decline and stabilise at
3.5 people per car (Cmin = 3.5). In comparison [16] has the people per car declining to a value of 3 by
2100. Mathematically let C(t)be the number of people per car in the world then:
C(t) = Cmin + (Cmax Cmin)eCr(tCs)(2)
where Csis set to 2010 (the assumed start year). Now the number of cars in the world are anticipated
to rise to 2000 million in 2050 [15], which equates to 4.55 people per car (this can be replicated by
setting Crto 0.039).
The fraction fE(t)of cars that are assumed to be electric vehicles are assumed to follow a symmetric
S curve shape:
fE(t) = fmax fmin
2+fmax fmin
2tanh(fr(tft)) (3)
where fmax is the maximum penetration reached by lithium vehicles and is assumed to be 100%. It
is assumed that the fraction of lithium electric vehicles will rise to 50% in 2050 (ft= 2050) and that
currently there is a 1% penetration. By comparison Carles [16] assumes 1% currently and 64% in 2050.
By assuming that the fraction of lithium electric vehicles initially was 0 fmin = 0 then frneeds to be set
at 0.057 to ensure a 1% penetration in the year 2010.
The number of electric vehicles E(t)in the worlds fleet is therefore E(t) = p(t)fE(t)/C(t). It is
assumed that the life of the cars is 10 years (this is similar to other estimates on the life of an electric
vehicle battery e.g., [34]) and that the number of new electric vehicles built (NE[t]) is the annual increase
in the electric vehicle fleet plus the number of vehicles taken out of the fleet. Mathematically this is:
NE[t] = E(t)E(t1) + NE[t10] (4)
The long term lithium demand can be calculated by multiplying the number of new electric vehicles
NE[t]by the assumed 3 kg of lithium needed for each electric vehicle.
Minerals 2012,277
5.2. Supply
The supply of lithium S(t)is determined by combining the amount of lithium produced with the
amount recycled, that is:
S(t) = P(t) + R(t)(5)
where P(t) is the production of lithium in year tand R(t)is the amount of lithium recycled in year t. The
production and recycling of lithium will be examined separately below.
5.2.1. Production
Projections of lithium production for the world were obtained by applying the static version of an
algorithm based model [32]. The model was not run in dynamic mode (where demand and supply
interact) due to an exogenous demand described in Section 5.1 being used. This model has been
successfully used to model coal production and unconventional oil production [32]. Briefly, the model
takes information on the start date, mine production rate, mine life and URR for a given region or
country. The model then uses the information to bring on-line idealised production profiles (4 year ramp
up, followed by constant annual production, finally a 4 year decline to shutdown) of mines until the URR
for the region is exhausted. By adding the production profiles of the various mines the production for the
region can be approximated. The model operated in the Static version, that is, demand has no influence
in the calculation of production.
The key inputs into the model are historic production and URR estimates. The constants for the size
of mines are selected to represent the estimated average annual mine production and the rate constant is
selected in such a way that ensures that the modelled production is as close as possible to actual historical
production; all the constants used in the modelling are provided in the electronic supplement. In addition,
the model of supply is included in the electronic supplement so that any assumptions can be changed by
the reader if they wish. A detailed description of the model is provided in the literature already [32]. The
key main inputs into the model (the URR and historic production) are shown in Table 4and Figure 1.
5.2.2. Recycling
Since the vast bulk of the lithium demand is anticipated to come from lithium batteries, it is anticipated
that lithium recycling will become common. It is assumed that the fraction of lithium supply being
recycled will start at 0% (it is currently estimated at less than 1% [35]) and approach a limit of 80%
(As a comparison steel recycling in 2008 increased to over 80% [36]), achieving 40% in 2050 (A 40%
recycling in 2050 is similar to Carles 2010 [16] scenario 2 which indicated recycling account for 41% of
consumption in 2054). Mathematically this fraction fRis determined as:
fR(t) = 0.4 + (0.4) tanh(0.06(t2050)) (6)
Minerals 2012,278
It is assumed that the life of the vehicles is 10 years, hence the amount of lithium recycled R(t)is
determined by:
R(t) = fR(t)S(t10) (7)
where S(t)is the supply of lithium in year t.
6. Results
The projections of the three scenarios for supply and demand are shown in Figures 3and 4. The peak
year and rates for the lithium supply are shown in Table 5. Detailed information including the projections
of all countries as well as peak year and rate values can be found in the electronic supplement. The
projections in Figures 3and 4are extended to 2200 in order to show as much of the overall supply
profile as possible.
Figure 3. Projected lithium supply and demand by continent. (a) Case 1; (b) Case 2;
(c) Case 3.
0
500
1000
1500
1900 1950 2000 2050 2100 2150 2200
Production (kt Li/y)
Africa Asia
Europe FSU
Middle East North America
Recycle South America
Demand
(a)
0
500
1000
1500
1900 1950 2000 2050 2100 2150 2200
Production (kt Li/y)
Africa Asia
Europe FSU
Middle East North America
Recycle South America
Demand
(b)
0
500
1000
1500
1900 1950 2000 2050 2100 2150 2200
Production (kt Li/y)
Africa Asia
Europe FSU
Middle East North America
Recycle South America
Demand
(c)
Minerals 2012,279
Figure 4. Projected lithium supply and demand by mineral type. (a) Case 1; (b) Case 2;
(c) Case 3.
0
500
1000
1500
1900 1950 2000 2050 2100 2150 2200
Production (kt Li/y)
Recycle Mineral
Brine Petalite
Spodumene Amblygonite
Oilfield Brine Unknown
Lepidolite Lithiophilite
Jadarite Hectorite
Demand
(a)
0
500
1000
1500
1900 1950 2000 2050 2100 2150 2200
Production (kt Li/y)
Recycle Mineral
Brine Petalite
Spodumene Amblygonite
Oilfield Brine Unknown
Lepidolite Lithiophilite
Jadarite Hectorite
Demand
(b)
0
500
1000
1500
1900 1950 2000 2050 2100 2150 2200
Production (kt Li/y)
Recycle Mineral
Brine Petalite
Spodumene Amblygonite
Oilfield Brine Unknown
Lepidolite Lithiophilite
Jadarite Hectorite
Demand
(c)
Table 5. Peak years for World by Continent.
Type Peak Year Max Production
Case 1 Case 2 Case 3 Case 1 Case 2 Case 3
Africa 2075 2085 2077 17.0 25.1 24.9
Asia 2112 2112 2175 18.2 20.9 32.8
Europe 2032 2025 2042 9.2 9.4 15.0
FSU 2029 2029 2091 2.0 2.0 33.0
Middle East 2086 15.4
North America 2078 2054 2140 45.8 45.7 79.3
Minerals 2012,280
Table 5. Cont.
Type Peak Year Max Production
Case 1 Case 2 Case 3 Case 1 Case 2 Case 3
South America 2059 2,061 2070 166.2 204.6 377.3
Production 2063 2,061 2073 241.5 285.6 529.4
Recycle 2091 2094 2107 481.7 576.0 1,187.8
Supply 2081 2083 2097 606.5 723.9 1,486.3
7. Discussion
The projections in lithium supply shown in Figures 3and 4are very similar up to 2050. All three
supply scenarios indicate that supply in 2050 will be between 305 and 485 kt Li/y which is an order of
magnitude larger than the current 26 kt Li/y. The lithium market can expand for several decades with
no shortages in lithium likely. Specifically, the amount of lithium URR that exists is not important to
determine at this stage as lithium is very likely to be abundant for several decades ahead. From 2030
onwards, growth in supply is governed by the growth in recycling, this leads to recycling dominating the
supply of lithium from 2050 onwards. If demand for lithium battery electric vehicles grows sharply then
it is important that a recycling industry be set up to ensure adequate supplies of lithium.
The supply of lithium from recycling and demand for lithium are very uncertain and sensitive to
the input assumptions. For instance if the life expectancy of a electric vehicle is increased from 10 to
12 years, then recycled production decreases by up to 109 kt Li/y (in the Case 3 scenario year 2087).
Similarly by changing the car life from 10 to 12 years also affects the demand for lithium, with demand
in 2200 decreased from 856 kt Li to 714 kt Li. In addition if the maximum recycling rate of lithium is
reduced from 80% to 60% then the peak amount of lithium recycled decreases by 45%–50%. This further
highlights how sensitive the recycling and demand assumptions are to the input values. As mentioned
both the supply and demand models for all scenarios are provided in the electronic supplement to enable
the reader to modify the inputs to suit.
The demand estimate can be compared to literature estimates. The demand assumed here reaches
400 kt Li/y in 2050 and approaches a limit of 857 kt Li/y by 2200. In comparison Angerer et al. [15]
estimated lithium demand to be 178–590 kt Li/y in 2050 and Carles [16] estimated demand approaching
1700 kt Li/y in 2200. The demand for lithium by McNulty and Khaykin [14] indicate demand of 37.7 kt
Li/y in 2020, while here a demand of 17.2 kt Li/y is assumed. The reason the lithium demand projection
presented here is initially lower is due to demand being assumed to be from electric vehicles only,
however in the longer term future, it is assumed that demand for lithium in electric vehicles will dominate
all other demand. The calculations of demand are shown in the electronic supplement.
The projections determined compare well to literature projections. First, Angerer et al. [15] projected
lithium recycling to be 51–185 kt Li/y in 2050; by comparison the projections presented here fall in the
same range in 2050 at 81–118 kt Li/y. Further, Angerer et al. indicate that production in 2050 needs to
be between 127 and 405 kt Li/y in order to meet demand, which compares well to the projections here
Minerals 2012,281
of 224–367 kt Li/y in 2050. However, Carles [16] projects non-seawater lithium production to reach
a maximum of 0.61–1.40 Mt Li/y, which is considerably higher than the maximum production levels
projected here of 0.24–0.53 Mt Li/y.
The three projections of lithium supply and one demand projection need to be interpreted carefully.
Numerous events could occur that may result in lithium supply being unable to meet demand. For
instance lithium production from the large Salar de Uyuni deposit in Bolivia may be delayed or
significantly reduced due to a lack of investment on infrastructure by the Bolivian Government.
Alternatively, a lithium recycling infrastructure may not be created smoothly or fast enough due to a
possible belief that lithium resources are abundant hence recycling is not critical. Issues such as peaking
fossil fuel may result in difficulties to extract, transport and refine the lithium resources into lithium
carbonate. Additionally, social or environmental issues surrounding the extraction of lithium may limit
the exploitation of lithium resources in some locations. While it appears that lithium can be supplied to
meet demand for the long term, significant issues may arise in the future.
As a further qualification, lithium production is still in its infancy and more deposits or lithium bearing
minerals are likely to be discovered. For instance, in 2006 jadarite, a new lithium bearing mineral, was
discovered in Serbia, and the deposit contains a similar amount of recoverable lithium resources as the
Greenbushes deposit. Ultimately there is no immediate issue with the supply of lithium and hence it is
not important to determine the precise lithium URR.
8. Conclusions
Lithium is a critical component of lithium battery electric vehicles. The amount of ultimately
recoverable resources of lithium based on currently available information has been examined and found
to lie between 19.3 and 55.0 Mt Li and, with a best guess of 23.6 Mt Li based on currently known
deposits. The large brine deposit at Uyuni and the Greenbushes rock deposit were examined in detail.
The review of lithium availability indicates that there is sufficient lithium to ensure significant lithium
battery electric vehicles in the future. It is again stressed that this does not imply that lithium battery
vehicles will be used significantly in the future, merely that there is sufficient lithium available in
order for this to occur. If lithium battery vehicles will dominate in the future then it is important that
policy makers ensure that lithium batteries are recycled, as recycled lithium represents a significant
proportion of total lithium supply in the future but is currently insignificant. As both the lithium battery
electric vehicles and lithium markets are in their infancy, it is important to note that future supply and
demand is extremely uncertain, and the reality in 2050 and beyond is likely to be vastly different to that
projected here.
9. Supplementary Information
The Supporting Information contains projections of lithium production for all countries, as well as
peak year and rate information.
Minerals 2012,282
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... With regard to primary extraction, lithium is commercially produced from two main sources: (i) solid mineral ores containing spodumene (LiAlSi 2 O 6 ) or petalite (LiAlSi 4 O 10 ), and more recently jadarite (LaNaSiB 3 O 7 (OH)) [13,14] ; (ii) subsurface brines which have become the dominant raw material for lithium carbonate production worldwide because of lower production costs Figure 3. Evaluation of the supply risk for 54 mineral commodities in the US, plotting economic vulnerability against the disruption potential. The point size and color correspond to the trade exposure and supply risk, respectively. ...
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... Assessment of the lithium resources for modern technological applications, especially for the rapidly growing demand for rechargeable Li-ion batteries for automotive vehicles, has produced a number of papers that contribute to the assurance that this strategic metal will be available in the next few years [1][2][3][4][5]. However, it is still necessary to assess the potential resources of many Li-rich ore deposits that were overlooked in the global inventory. ...
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Regarded as one of the leading sources of condensed minerals information, this new edition of the Minerals Handbook comprises uniform statistical data on 52 of the most industrially important minerals. New additions in this addition include Coal and Soda Ash. The introduction is comprised of several summary pages providing far reaching data on global aspects of minerals information, such as the value of annual production and the import dependence of major economies. For the non-specialist, the Minerals Handbook will be used as an introductory guide to world minerals, drawing together statistics from primary and secondary information detailed in appendices, and pointing the way to original sources. For the specialist it acts as a useful up to date reference tool, comprising key technical information, allowing clear comparisons, and providing sufficient data to allow informed debate on minerals policy. © Phillip Crowson, 1982, 1984, 1986, 1988, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1996. All rights reserved.
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