Australia overtakes Chile as world’s largest producer of lithium

Australia is officially the largest producer of lithium in the world after overtaking Chile’s total output in 2017, according to data from United States Geological Survey (USGS).

Australia produced 18,700 tonnes of lithium last year, most of which was sourced within the nation’s hard rock lithium hub in Western Australia, meanwhile Chile – which holds the largest known lithium reserves in the world – faltered to produce 14,100 tonnes.

Consequently, the South American country’s market share in the global lithium space dropped to 32.8% from 37.6% in 2016. On the contrary, Australia’s market share increased from 36.8% to 43.5% in the same period.

However, Chilean authorities believe that the shift in market power is only momentary, as development agency Corfo recently struck a deal with Chilean producer SQM that will allow the lithium heavyweight to expand its production capacity to 100,000 tonnes a year by 2019.

In fact, Sergio Hernández, executive vice president of Chile’s state copper commission Cochilco, has estimated that Chile will recover its leading position in the lithium market by 2021, when total output is expected to hit 147,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE).

Chile plans to maximise the potential of its vast lithium brine reserves ahead of the projected mass take up of electric vehicles (EVs) through the establishment of a downstream processing and battery industry.

“By 2035, Chile could have an industry of about US$10 billion, made up of a combination of carbonate and lithium hydroxide output as well as value-added products, such as cathodes,” said Hernández.