For Australia’s miners of lithium, one of the critical metals to make electric batteries, last year started out like the one before it: with the same weakness in demand and pricing that has been forcing operators into survival mode.
The markets for battery ingredients lithium and cobalt, which soared from 2016-18, went from boom to bust after a rush of new projects tipped the industry into oversupply, and reductions in Chinese subsidy programs put a pause on the electric vehicle revolution.
The price of hard-rock lithium concentrate known as spodumene had crashed by nearly half already and the COVID-19 pandemic threatened to drive car sales even lower.
But as it turned out, 2020 was a “tale of two halves”, says Ken Brinsden, chief executive of Pilbara Minerals, one of Australia’s largest lithium miners.
In their post-pandemic recovery push, world governments started unleashing “green” stimulus programs supporting transport electrification. Demand increased in China with electric vehicle sales and uptake of lithium-ion batteries to store renewable energy.
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