All lithium production estimates that we have encountered are quiet opaque regarding the methodology and data sources employed. They state the number of total production without quoting the exact sources, based on which estimate is build.
Moreover, as per our previous article, the only free of charge report available including global lithium production estimates, published every year, comes from USGS.
For most of commodities with high geopolitical and macroeconomic importance, there is usually more than one free of charge source available.
Rightly so, as this opens up the room for further discussion and cross checks the validity of estimates.
Since business decisions are often based on commodities supply and demand estimates, we believe that they should be transparent, discussed and continuously improved, for any commodity and raw material.
To produce yearly lithium production estimates, with a differentiation from other lithium production estimates, derived from making the process and data sources behind the number public.
By doing that Lithium Today encourages the discussion of the estimate on a wider forum. We look forward to critique of the estimate, of sources and methodology employed (you can state it in the comments section or by sending us an email firstname.lastname@example.org) , so we can continuously work on improving it.
Therefore what we publish here is not as much a ready estimate (even if we put an effort in producing such), but an invitation for a dialogue and hence a “work in progress”.
We particularly encourage lithium producers and government agencies, to engage in this project. We are also working on a similar in nature research on demand side – if you are an actor on a demand side and you are willing to share your data, please send us an email.
Salar de Hombre Muerto brine mine FMC (now Livent Lithium) approximately 18,000 MT LCE of lithium brine production
Source: Form S-1
Thanks for Livent Lithium for pointing out the source of data.
Comments: Table in S1 on page 88 states also a production for 2017 in MTs per product as Lithium Hydroxide, Carbonate and other products.
If we take an approach of converting this amounts to LCE by using Lithium Conversion Table figure is larger and amounts to 31 810.86 MT LCE
Yet, we think, since we aim to determine a total global mineral production, expressed in LCE terms (as LCE metrics are more often used when analyzing lithium market than contained lithium metrics), we decided to stick with 18,000 MT LCE figure.
Salar de Olaroz brine mine Orocobre, production 11,862 MT of Lithium Carbonate
Source: 2017 Annual Report
Total estimated lithium production for Argentina in 2017 in LCE terms: 29 862 MT
Cross reference :
UN Comtrade database export level for Argentina in 2017: 26,268,923 kg net for HS Code 283691 (Lithium Carbonate)
Declared trade value: $197,665,124 = USD 7.52/kg average price
In 2017 no Lithium Hydroxide Monohydrate HS Code 282520 has been exported from Argentina according to UN Comtrade database.
USGS estimates that Argentina produced 5500 metric tons of lithium content what equals roughly 29,276 MT of LCE
Lithium Today Argentina production estimate in LCE terms: 29 862 MT
According to Servicio Nacional de Geología y Minería report
Chile Lithium Carbonate production of 73,563 MT
Chile Lithium Chloride production of 2,535 MT =2,208 MT in LCE terms
Chile Lithium Hydroxide production of 5,280 MT = 4,646 MT in LCE terms
In total: 80,417 MT in LCE terms
Thanks to Sociedad Nacional de Mineria for pointing out the source.
When we look at individual production facilities:
Albemarle on its website states that La Negra facility has 44 000 tonnes of lithium carbonate capacity. Facility has been inaugurated in May 2017.
We could not find any other production numbers for Albemarle for 2017 in publicly available sources from which we could gauge Albemarle production levels. We have sent an email to Albemarle for a comment on its production levels and have not received the reply so far.
Salar de Atacama SQM brine mine.
SQM mentions “approximately 49,700 metric tons of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE)” as sold in 2017 in its annual report.
“The annual production capacity of our lithium carbonate plant at the Salar del Carmen is 48,000 metric tons per year.” (Salar de Carmen facility is where the output of Salar de Atacama brine mine is processed)
” The lithium hydroxide facility has a production capacity of 6,000 metric tons per year” (facility at the Salar de Carmen)
SQM states on its website: “SQM produces lithium hydroxide in its Salar del Carmen plant, close to Antofagasta, Chile, from lithium carbonate that is produced at the same plant.”
Hence we estimate the SQM production capacity at 48,000 MT LCE for 2017 for the purpose of this study.
We have sent an email to SQM for a comment on its production levels and have not received the reply so far.
For the purpose of this study, total production capacity in Chile : 92 000 MT LCE
UN Comtrade indicates
6,203,148 kg of Lithium Hydroxide exported in 2017
Trade value: $100,585,445 = average USD 16,22/kg
65,342,655 kg of Lithium Carbonate exported in 2017
Trade value: $685,935,245 = average USD 10,50/kg
Total of Lithium Hydroxide and Carbonate exported in LCE terms = 70,801 MT
USGS production estimation for Chile in 2017 in MT of lithium content 14,100 MT = 75,054 MT in LCE terms
Lithium chloride is usually produced by treating lithium carbonate with hydrochloric acid. Lithium hydroxide in Chile is also produced from Carbonate. So if from a figure of 73,563 we deduct the production volumes of lithium chloride and of lithium hydroxide as expressed in LCE terms we reach a level of: 66,709 MT LCE.
Considering that all lithium production in Chile exported as Sociedad Nacional de Mineria informed us, the figure of 66,709 MT LCE is close to the yearly export level of 65,342.7 MT.
Lithium Today Chile production estimate in LCE terms: 66 709 MT
According to our contact at Departamento Nacional de Produção Mineral, preliminary figure for 2017 production level was:
10,547 t of spodumene concentrate. In 2016 statistic shown 5,05% Li2O content. Official statistics for 2017 shall be available by the end of 2018.
According to government agencies data 1000 kg of spodumene and 1 kg of lithium carbonate has been exported in 2017.
In 2017 only CBL (Companhia Brasileira de Lítio) mined lithium in Brazil.
Thanks to Departamento Nacional de Produção Mineral for support.
Brazil lithium production measured in lithium content: 533 MT, assuming average 5,05% Li2O content.
Brazil lithium production estimate measured in lithium content by USGS for 2017: 200 MT
Lithium Today Brazil production estimate in LCE terms: 2 835 MT
Figures on Zimbabwean production are difficult to obtain, despite the country’s efforts to re-brand after a regime change and attract investment.
We have contacted Ministry of Mines and Mining Development and the only producers Bikita Minerals for figures, but have not heard back on this so far.
The Herald, opinion-making Zimbabwean newspaper reports in its article:
“Petalite is an ore that contains about 4,5 percent of lithium and last year, Bikita Minerals produced about 40 000 tonnes of petalite.”
It equals 1800 MT of lithium contained and 9581 MT of LCE
USGS estimates Zimbabwean production in 2017 at a level of 1000 MT of lithium contained
It is not possible to verify export figures of spodumene through UN Comtrade database. As it tends to be exported under general HS codes encompassing other minerals.
Lithium Today Zimbabwe production estimate in LCE terms: 9 581 MT
Felmica belonging to Grupo Mota was the only producer of lithium in Portugal in 2017
USGS estimate for 2017 was at 400 MT level of lithium content.
DGEG (Direção-Geral de Energia e Geologia) informed us Portugal produced 65,743 tons of ore at 0,93% Li2O what equals 611.4 MT lithium content and 3,254.5 MT LCE.
Thanks to DGEG for help.
Lithium Today Portugal production estimate in LCE terms: 3 255 MT
According to China Nonferrous Metals Industry Association- Lithium Branch (CNIA-Li) China produced 123 400 LCE domestically.
This large number does not derive however from domestic extraction but from imported raw materials processed in China into Lithium Hydroxide, Monohydrate and other compounds. Hence determining a lithium production in LCE terms coming from the Chinese soil poses a challenge.
Based on Ganfeng Lithium prospectus 35,021 MT LCE has been produced in Mount Marion mine in 2017
Based on Tianqi Lithium “Application proof” mine in Greenbushes produced in total 98,000 kt LCE
USGS quotes 18,700 production in lithium content for Australia what equals 99,540 MT LCE
Lithium Today Australia production estimate in LCE terms based on above data equals: 133 021 MT
Bolivia’s lithium carbonate pilot plant has been inaugurated in January,2013 according to BNAmericas article
According to our contact at YLB (Yacimientos de Litio Bolivianos) capacity is around 300 MT LCE per annum
Thanks to YLB for the info.
Lithium Today 2017 production estimate for Bolivia in LCE terms: 300 MT
USGS does not include US lithium production in its estimate.
“The only lithium production in the United States was from a brine operation in Nevada”.
“Domestic production was withheld to avoid disclosing company proprietary data.” (source)
This secret seems to be treated more lightly by 2 NEWS “Coverage you can count on”
In an article from 1st February 2017 on Silver’s Peak Lithium mine, it is written:
“The mine currently produces 3,500 metric tons of lithium per year, with the capability to produce 6,000 metric tons. The mine intends to increase its production as the demand increases.” (source)
Lithium Today’s USA production estimate in LCE terms: 3500 MT
Lithium Today Global Lithium Production Estimate for 2017: 261,078 MT LCE
- Australia 133,021 MT LCE
- Chile 66,709 MT LCE
- Argentina 29,862 MT LCE
- China 12,015 MT LCE
- Zimbabwe 9,581 MT LCE
- USA 3,500 MT LCE
- Portugal 3,255 MT MT LCE
- Brazil 2,835 MT LCE
- Bolivia 300 MT LCE
We do not claim that this estimate is accurate or complete. Character of this research is to remain a work in progress. It is supposed to open up an enquiry about the validity of prevailing estimates and the sources used. We highly encourage a critique and suggestions on how to improve it to get closer to an objective truth.
USGS lithium production estimate for 2017: 43,000 tons of lithium content which equals approximately 228 889 MT LCE
BMO Capital Markets lithium production estimate for 2017: 244 000 LCE (source).
McKinsey lithium production estimate for 2017: 216 000 MT LCE (source)