The global lithium rush is only at the beginning – by Frik Els ( – July 7, 2023)

The lithium mining industry’s ups and downs since the start of the decade has been nothing short of spectacular. Measured from 2020 lows to November 2022 highs the price of lithium carbonate in China soared 1,400%, spodumene concentrate from Australia racked up 2,100% gains and European and US hydroxide climbed 804%.

Unlike nickel where swings have been equally wild, the action was not a paper-based futures short squeeze or other trading aberration but real-world transactions. The frenzy during the second half of last year meant anyone that could find a way to bring lithium to market did so – from direct shipping ore from Africa to lepidolite ramp ups in China to tailings reprocessing and, such as there were, recycled material.

That meant the corrections were just as steep as the ascent with prices halving or falling as much as 70% from the records set last year. And of course the inevitable rebound over the last few months as interest in the sector reached fever pitch and China’s reopening gathered steam.

According to Fastmarkets, London-based research consultants and pricing agency, there were 45 lithium mines operating in the world in 2022, with 11 expected to open this year and seven next year.

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