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Green Conflict Minerals - Lithium

This excerpt is taken from "Green Conflict Minerals: The Mad Dash to Net Zero Is About to Get Rough" by James Scott

Lithium is the key component of current and potential future renewable energy storage solutions. As such, it is expected that its global demand will increase rapidly as more and more of these solutions are brought into production, and their use expands: from electric vehicles and mobile devices to industrial-scale energy storage. While the current lithium consumption for green energy applications represents around 30% of total lithium consumption, it is estimated that the global demand will increase by 40 times over the next 20 years. Because of this rapid increase, lithium production is expected to increase significantly, most likely doubling by 2025 due to the expansion of existing operations and new developments. However, after 2025, the demand is expected to outpace the production, and by 2030, it is expected that lithium production will only meet around half of the demand.

Lithium is exploited in two main forms: brine and spodumene. Brine deposits are located in arid areas in South America (Atacama) and northwestern China and produce lithium carbonate directly or process lithium carbonate to produce lithium hydroxide. Spodumene is a lithium aluminum silicate mineral, mostly found in Australia, Zimbabwe, and China. The recent development of spodumene mines made Australia the world’s largest lithium producer, although the region nicknamed “The Lithium Triangle” in Argentina, Chile, and Bolivia still remains the largest regional producer of lithium, and contains around 60% of known lithium reserves (USGS, 2022).

However, lithium processing facilities are mostly concentrated in China: almost 60% of lithium products come from Chinese facilities, and China has been investing heavily in the lithium mining and processing sector. Over 80% of lithium hydroxide – used in EV batteries, is produced in China, mostly relying on supply from Australia and Chile. The Chinese Tianqi Lithium company acquired a 24% stake worth over $4 billion in Chilean company SQM, the world’s largest lithium producer, which controls mines in the South American Lithium Triangle. And China has invested heavily in the development of lithium extraction in Zimbabwe, with Chinese acquisitions of over $700 million, with planned investments of another $500 million. Zimbabwe has the fifth-largest lithium deposits in the world and the largest in Africa.

In the long term, new technologies are expected to allow lithium extraction from sedimentary clay rocks (simpler and more energy-effective than extraction from spodumene) and waste rocks, expanding the scope of exploitable lithium deposits, while direct lithium extraction from brines is under development, which would significantly simplify lithium production. All these emerging technologies could contribute to a more rapid increase in lithium production, while significantly reducing capital costs and environmental impact. Lithium projects are also very sensitive to climate stress – their operation requires large amounts of water, and there is a correlation between lithium operations and an increase in drought conditions in the region.

From a broader strategic point of view, it is clear that rapid investment in new lithium production and processing technologies is required to avert or minimize the expected global supply gap. While most of the global lithium reserves are located in stable, democratic countries, there is an increasing dependence on Chinese processing capacities, and it is expected that in the likely case of a global lithium shortage, China would prioritize its domestic production. Recent Chinese investments in international lithium production suggest that China is acquiring a strategic position that will allow it to accomplish just that and secure enough resources for its economy while avoiding competition in the global market.

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The latest books by Embassy Row Project's founder James Scott entitled

Green Conflict Minerals: The Mad Dash to Net Zero Is About to Get Rough

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USGS, 2022, U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, Mineral Commodity Summaries 2022, Available at:


US Net Import Reliance:

ARSENIC, all forms, 100%, %, China, Morocco, Belgium

ASBESTOS, 100%, Brazil, Russia

CESIUM, 100%, Germany, China

FLUORSPAR, 100%, Mexico, Vietnam, South Africa, Canada

GALLIUM, 100%, China, United Kingdom, Germany, Ukraine

GRAPHITE (NATURAL), 100%, China, Mexico, Canada, India

INDIUM, 100%, China, Canada, Republic of Korea, France

MANGANESE, 100%, Gabon, South Africa, Australia, Georgia

MICA (NATURAL), sheet, 100%, China, Brazil, Belgium, India


NIOBIUM (COLUMBIUM), 100%, Brazil, Canada

RUBIDIUM, 100%, Germany

SCANDIUM, 100%, Europe, China, Japan, Russia

STRONTIUM, 100%, Mexico, Germany, China

TANTALUM, 100%, China, Germany, Australia, Indonesia

VANADIUM, 100%, Canada, China, Brazil, South Africa

YTTRIUM, 100%, China, Republic of Korea, Japan

GEMSTONES, 99%, India, Israel, Belgium, South Africa

TELLURIUM, >95%, Canada, Germany, China, Philippines

POTASH, 93%, Canada, Russia, Belarus

IRON OXIDE PIGMENTS, natural and synthetic, 91%, China, Germany, Brazil

RARE EARTHS, compounds, and metals, >90%, China, Estonia, Malaysia, Japan

TITANIUM, sponge, >90%, Japan, Kazakhstan, Ukraine

BISMUTH, 90%, China, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Belgium

TITANIUM MINERAL CONCENTRATES, 90%, South Africa, Australia, Madagascar, Mozambique

ANTIMONY, metal, and oxide, 84%, China, Belgium, India

STONE (DIMENSION), 84%, China, Brazil, Italy, India

CHROMIUM, 80%, South Africa, Kazakhstan, Russia, Mexico

PEAT, 80%, Canada

SILVER, 79%, Mexico, Canada, Chile, Poland

TIN, refined, 78%, Indonesia, Peru, Malaysia, Bolivia

COBALT, 76%, Norway, Canada, Japan, Finland

DIAMOND (INDUSTRIAL), stones, 76%, South Africa, India, Congo (Kinshasa), Botswana

ZINC, refined, 76%, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Spain

ABRASIVES, crude fused aluminum oxide, >75%, China, France, Bahrain, Russia

BARITE, >75%, China, India, Morocco, Mexico

BAUXITE, >75%, Jamaica, Brazil, Guyana, Australia

SELENIUM, >75%, Philippines, China, Mexico, Germany

RHENIUM, 72%, Chile, Canada, Kazakhstan, Japan

PLATINUM, 70%, South Africa, Germany, Switzerland, Italy

ALUMINA, 58%, Brazil, Australia, Jamaica, Canada

GARNET (INDUSTRIAL), 56%, South Africa, China, India, Australia

MAGNESIUM COMPOUNDS, 55%, China, Brazil, Israel, Canada

ABRASIVES, crude silicon carbide, >50%, China, Netherlands, South Africa

GERMANIUM, >50%, China, Belgium, Germany, Russia

IODINE, >50%, Chile, Japan

TUNGSTEN, >50%, China, Bolivia, Germany, Canada

CADMIUM, <50%, Australia, China, Germany, Peru

MAGNESIUM METAL, <50%, Canada, Israel, Mexico

NICKEL, 48%, Canada, Norway, Finland, Australia

COPPER, refined, 45%, Chile, Canada, Mexico

ALUMINUM, 44%, Canada, United Arab Emirates, Russia, China

DIAMOND (INDUSTRIAL), bort, grit, dust, and powder, 41%, China, Ireland, Republic of Korea, Russia

LEAD, refined, 38%, Canada, Mexico, Republic of Korea, India

PALLADIUM, 37%, Russia, South Africa, Germany

FELDSPAR, 32%, Turkey

SILICON, metal and ferrosilicon, 32%, Russia, Brazil, Canada, Norway

SALT, 29%, Chile, Canada, Mexico, Egypt

MICA (NATURAL), scrap and flake, 28%, Canada, China, India

LITHIUM, >25%, Argentina, Chile, China, Russia

BROMINE, <25%, Israel, Jordan, China

ZIRCONIUM, ores and concentrates, <25%, South Africa, Senegal, Australia, Russia

PERLITE, 23%, Greece, China, Mexico, Turkey

VERMICULITE, 20%, South Africa, Brazil

Mineral, US Consumption (metric tons); US share of imports; main import partner; World leading producing country, percentage of world production produced by the world leader

Aluminum (bauxite), 3,600,000; >75%, Jamaica; Australia, 28%

Antimony, 28,000; 84%, China; China, 55%

Arsenic, 6,800; 100%, China; Peru, 46%

Barite, >75%, China; China, 38%

Beryllium, 200; 16%, Kazakhstan; the United States, 65%

Bismuth, 810; 90%, China; China, 84%

Chromium, 590,000; 80%, South Africa; South Africa, 44%

Cobalt, 6,700; 76%, Norway; Congo (Kinshasa), 71%

Fluorspar, 100%, Mexico; China, 63%

Gallium, 100%, China; China, 98%

Germanium, 530; >50%, China; China, 68%

Graphite (natural) 45,000; 100%, China; China, 82%

Helium, 40; Export, Qatar; the United States, 44%

Indium, 170; 100%, China; China, 58%

Lithium, 52,000; >25%, Argentina; Australia, 55%

Magnesium, 50,000; <50%, Canada; China, 84%

Manganese, 640,000; 100%, Gabon; South Africa, 37%

Niobium, 7,000; 100%, Brazil; Brazil, 88%

Palladium (platinum-group metal), 90; 37%, Russia; South Africa, 40%

Platinum (platinum-group metal), 37; 70%, South Africa; South Africa, 72%

Potash, 7,400,000; 93%, Canada; Canada, 30%

Rare-earth elements, 6,100; >90%, China; China, 60%

Rhenium, 32; 72%, Chile; Chile, 49%

Scandium; 100%; China

Strontium, 4,800; 100%, Mexico; Spain, 42%

Tantalum, 710; 100%, China; Congo (Kinshasa), 33%

Tellurium; >95%, Canada; China, 59%

Tin 45,000; 78%, Indonesia; China, 30%

Titanium; >90%, Japan; China, 57%

Tungsten; 50%, China; China, 84%

Vanadium; 3,600; 100%, Canada; China, 66%

Zirconium, 30,000; <25%, South Africa; Australia, 36%

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