February 12, 2023

Upstream Lithium Market Assessment

Stratas Advisors


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Global production of lithium grew by 28.8% year-on-year in 2022, and shows a further growth of 26.4% in the full-year projection for 2023. The upstream lithium market is highly concentrated among roughly six companies which cover over half of total mined supply globally. With operations fully focused on Chile’s brine resources in the Atacama Desert, Sociedad Quimica y Minera de Chile (SQM) is currently the world’s biggest lithium miner at a market share of over 11%. The exploitation of the Chilean Atacama brine resource is developed also by Albemarle, which in 2022 is estimated to have supplied about 10% of global lithium supply from the company’s additional assets in the US and Australia. Another 10% of global lithium supply is produced by Pilbara Minerals, which since 2021 operates its Pilgangoora spodumene asset in Western Australia.
Expansions to brownfield projects are expected to add about 550 KT/year of new supply by the end of the decade, with over a third of them originating from Australian resources. However, greenfield projects will see an exponential growth with market newcomers accounting for over half of total lithium supply by 2030. Upstream lithium additions are expected to be mostly fueled by hard rock (spodumene) expansions and greenfield projects in Australia and Canada, and to a lesser extent in Africa (DRC, Zimbabwe, Mali), Brazil, and China. However, brine extraction will defend its current market position throughout most of the decade thanks to the exponential growth of Argentinian supply and to the modest growth of Bolivian production, both greatly supported by Chinese investment. Despite the growth of Argentina, the lack of large-scale investment in Chilean and Bolivian brine resources will hamper a more rapid growth of lithium carbonate production in the medium term, altogether favoring hard rock mining elsewhere to boost battery-grade lithium hydroxide production. While existing lithium carbonate plants fed by nearby brine resources rarely possess the capabilities for hydroxide upgrading, a majority of greenfield hard rock projects plan to add on-site lithium hydroxide capacity to supply the global battery market, increasingly displacing Chinese supply.
This report is part of a series covering all segments of the EV supply chain, and contains strategic insights on growth projections and production trends across major markets and 60+ players, outlining key investments which help shape estimates on annual supply through 2030.
Key takeaways:
  • Global mine production of lithium grows at a CAGR of 16.8% over 2022-2030, with growth accelerating in Australia and Argentina

  • About 50% of the upstream lithium market is currently dominated by six players, with SQM as the global leader thanks to its brine operations in Chile

  • Mined lithium supply growth is expected to be mostly fueled by hard rock additions outside of South America; however, brine defends its market share thanks to the growth of China-backed Argentinian and Bolivian production

  • The upstream lithium market sees a very strong penetration of new entrants, projected to account for over half of global mined supply by 2030 as all major producers see a significant loss in market share


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