(Bloomberg) — Elon Musk wants to mine it, China is scouring Tibet for it, battery makers are crying out for it. Lithium, the wonder metal at the heart of the global shift to electric cars, is in a full-blown crisis. Demand has outstripped supply, pushing prices up almost 500% in a year and hindering the world’s most successful effort yet to halt global warming.
The shortage of lithium is so acute that in China, which makes about 80% of the world’s lithium-ion batteries, the government corralled suppliers and manufacturers to demand “a rational return” to lower prices. Analysts at Macquarie Group Ltd. warned of a “a perpetual deficit,” while Citigroup Inc. nearly doubled its price forecast for 2022, saying an “extreme” rally could be coming.
The consequences of failure to produce enough lithium are potentially devastating. Global investment in EVs has grown faster than any other new-energy sector over the past few years, outstripping even wind and solar power. Current lithium spot prices could add up to $1,000 to the cost of a new vehicle, Benchmark Mineral Intelligence said.
Along with higher prices of other raw materials, that is reversing years of falling prices as EVs race to become cost-competitive with gasoline-powered cars. If battery makers can’t get enough lithium, it would curb the expansion of clean-energy vehicles, making it harder to meet global emissions targets.
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