Lithium has many uses, from ceramics/glass and lubricating grease to metallurgical polymers and pharmaceutical drugs. However, its use in batteries, especially batteries for electric vehicles and large stationary storage applications, is driving growth. There is a six-fold increase in demand for lithium expected by 2030 as EV adoption increases and the battery sector expands. The incremental growth in lithium demand represents ~20 new lithium mines with an average size of 25ktpa by 2025.
At least 16 new lithium battery “Gigafactories” are planned in Europe over the next ten years as European lithium battery capacity is estimated to increase by over 300 to 400 GWh from current levels.
Lithium is used in various industrial applications, the most relevant of which is energy storage (via lithium batteries). This is also the fastest-growing sector for lithium due to rising demand in both the automotive industry and the portable consumer electronics industry.
One of the most valuable uses of lithium is as a component of high energy-density rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. Lithium-ion batteries represent the fastest-growing industrial demand for lithium. Lithium-ion batteries in electric powered forms of transport are expected to influence the lithium market significantly. Because of concerns over carbon dioxide footprint and increasing hydrocarbon fuel cost, lithium is expected to become even more critical in large batteries for powering all-electric and hybrid vehicles. Lithium batteries already enjoy a sizeable market, powering laptop computers, cordless heavy-duty power tools and hand-held electronic devices.
Due to the quantum of lithium used in electric vehicle batteries, the electrification of the transport sector has the potential to affect a step change in demand for lithium. While electric vehicles currently represent only ~1 % of global annual vehicle sales, the number of electric vehicles sold has increased by 30 to 50 % per year in recent years.
As economies of scale and improvements in energy density, and increased competition combine to lower the cost of electric vehicles, it can be expected that high levels of growth could continue. In addition, the regulatory environment in many key markets is shifting in favour of electrification of transport. Several countries, including France and the UK, have announced the future banning of vehicles powered by fossil fuels and China. Currently, the largest automotive market globally has put in place requirements for manufacturers to increase the volumes of electrified vehicles sold significantly.
The lithium market (as expressed in terms of volume of lithium carbonate equivalent (“LCE”)) is currently growing more than 15 % per annum and, in value terms, has more than doubled since 2014/15. In its base scenario, SignumBox (a leading lithium market consulting firm) forecasts that annual growth over the next 20 years will average 11.6 %. The bulk of the growth is increasing demand from the battery sector, implying continued strong growth for battery-grade carbonate, hydroxide and fluoride products. SignumBox has performed a bottom-up demand forecast for lithium in which they have estimated the use of lithium in each of its applications. They have estimated three different demand scenarios broadly varying based on different potential outcomes for general economic growth and, most importantly, the development of the electric vehicle (“EV”) market, which is anticipated to be the primary driver of battery demand.