To meet the growing global demand for electric vehicles, there will need to be more than twenty times the amount of lithium mined than in 2021, according to Benchmark Mineral Intelligence. At least 11.2 million tons of lithium carbonate equivalent will be required to support energy storage and EV battery production.
In the short term, the market will need 2.9 million tons by 2032 - or the supply chain could face lasting problems. To put it in perspective, all of the lithium mined in 2021 would be enough to support a single month of demand by 2040, researchers indicate.
It can take upwards of five years to bring a lithium mining project fully operational. Benchmark has tracked only 40 lithium-producing mines in 2022 but warns at least 234 new mines will be needed by 2050. To help alleviate pressure to build new mines, recycling old batteries and process scrap could become a wise investment for automakers and companies to explore further.
Simon Moores, CEO of Benchmark, had this to say: "The long-term path for lithium is set, yet the supply chain scaling challenge has just begun. What this data shows is that we are at just the beginning of a generational challenge, not one that's going to be solved in the 2020s."
The United States has a single lithium-producing plant, Silver Peak, a western Nevada location that has mined lithium since the 1960s. Overall, the US produces just 1% of global production rates, though could meet growing demand if additional mines are opened.
There still is a major concern surrounding the long-term environmental impact of lithium mining, and it will be a neverending discussion. Researchers in South America are worried the Chilean lithium mines, which are located in the Atacama Desert, removes enough groundwater it could make the desert hotter and drier.
Not surprisingly, the increased demand has led to skyrocketing prices, which have gone up more than 700% since the start of 2021.