Mining giants have underestimated the lithium wave – by David Fickling (Bloomberg – May 13, 2023)

While the market for electric-battery materials was booming, one group of investors stayed on the sidelines: mining giants. That seems surprising. Firms such as Anglo American Plc, BHP Group, Glencore Plc, Rio Tinto Group and Vale SA got where they are today by spotting whatever commodities would see strong demand and weak supply in future, scouring the world for the best resources, and watching the money roll in.

A decade ago, the likes of lithium, cobalt and graphite were minor materials, affected less by electric vehicles than the markets for lubricants, drill-bits and smelting equipment. Nowadays, battery demand is so intense that rising prices risk holding back the energy transition, and major industrial consumers are rushing to lock down supplies.

There are few better ways to finance the multibillion-dollar investments needed to decarbonize our economies than letting the balance sheets of giant companies loose on the problem — so where have the major miners been?

Mostly absent from the scene. Anglo American, BHP and Vale have shown no interest in battery materials beyond their existing suite of elements, with the first two notably cool on the prospects for lithium in particular. Glencore invested this month in an electric-battery recycling business, but has shown no interest in digging up fresh supplies. Only Rio Tinto has made efforts to drill for the commodity, with a deposit rich in borates (a product it already mines) whose license was canceled last year by the Serbian government.

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