Half of the world’s supply of the critical battery ingredient is mined in Australia, which ships virtually all of it to China. The government and business are betting they can change that.
Deep in rural Western Australia, Pilbara Minerals’ vast processing plant looms above the red dirt, quivering as tons of a lithium ore slurry move through its pipes.
The plant turns the ore from a nearby quarry into spodumene, a greenish crystalline powder that is about 6 percent lithium and sells for about $5,700 a ton. From there, the spodumene is shipped to China, where it is further refined so it can be used in the batteries that power goods like cellphones and electric cars.
Australia mines about 53 percent of the world’s supply of lithium, and virtually all of it is sold to China. But now the Australian government wants to break the world’s dependence on China for processing the minerals driving the green revolution.
Pilbara Minerals, the country’s largest independent lithium miner, is among the companies exploring a new model for producing battery chemicals — done closer to where the lithium is mined and sold to allies like the United States and South Korea.
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