It’s 11:55 p.m. and Steven Howard has just returned to his hotel room in Beijing after a draining day of meetings to promote his lithium exploration company. The next morning, he would fly to Seoul to do it again, and then on to Tokyo.
“I’ve got wings and wheels strapped to my rear end,” he says about his travel schedule which included stops in Hong Kong, Shenzen, Huizhou and Tianjin.
Howard, whose background is in oil and gas, leads one of the dozens of Canadian-listed mining companies looking to capitalize on the roaring demand for lithium being created by the world’s budding electric vehicle industry, before the bubble bursts.
But his company faces an odd dilemma: lithium prices have never been this high, estimated at more than US$13,000 per ton, yet there are growing fears that the supply and demand forecasts are out of whack, and that prices will crash.
Unlike the other materials that are key to electric vehicle batteries, such as copper and nickel, the market for lithium is relatively opaque — with no futures’ market and no benchmark price as most lithium is sold in private transactions.