Lithium producers are growing anxious that delays in mine permitting, staffing shortages and inflation may hinder their ability to supply enough of the battery metal to meet the world’s aggressive electrification timelines.
Once a niche metal used primarily in ceramics and pharmaceuticals, lithium is now one of the world’s most in-demand metals given aggresive EV plans from automakers.
At stake is the pace with which electric vehicles could displace internal combustion engines, a key goal of the green energy transition.
Lake Resources became the latest lithium company to announce a project delay, pushing back first production from its Kachi lithium project in Argentina by three years. It cited power supply and other logistics concerns.
Albemarle, the world’s largest lithium producer, is growing rapidly across the Americas, Asia and Australia. Still, it expects global lithium demand to exceed supply by 500,000 metric tons in 2030. Various consultancies and other producers have slightly different projections, but all warn of a looming shortage.
“It’s a big challenge,” said Eric Norris, head of Albemarle’s lithium business.
There were 45 lithium mines operating in the world last year, with 11 expected to open this year and seven next year. That pace is far below what consultants say is needed to ensure adequate global supply.
Those growth projections assume a best-case scenario, even as mining companies face difficulty hiring, technical talent, rising costs and delay times for crucial equipment.
Even if more lithium mines are built, there are not enough facilities to produce specialized types of the metal for batteries. Automakers may be forced to accept lower-quality lithium, which decreases an EV battery’s range, executives said.