By Felicity Bradstock
It’s been a big week for lithium, with a multi-billion-dollar mega-merger, a new major production deal in Chile, and funding for Europe’s first large-scale lithium refinery in Chile. Things are looking up for the vital battery metal. Australian lithium miners Galaxy Resources (ASX:GXY) and Orocobre (ASX:ORE) agreed on a merger worth $3.1 billion, which will make them the fifth-largest lithium producer in the world. The company, to be based in Buenos Aires, plans to produce electric vehicle (EV) batteries using refined lithium to meet the increasing global demand. The new company, which has yet to be named, is expected to achieve a 10 percent share of the lithium market within the next five to seven years. At the same time, Chilean lithium and iodine producer SQM also signed a seven-year agreement to produce lithium hydroxide for use in 500,000 EV batteries alongside chemicals company Johnson Matthey’s. Chile currently holds around 60 percent of global lithium reserves, producing approximately 20 percent of lithium globally. However, at present, the mining of lithium can only happen in collaboration with a state-owned company, an issue that is currently being debating in the lower house. Following Chile and Australia, Argentina is the third-largest global lithium producer, with a target of $10.7 billion in lithium exports within the next ten years. In other lithium-based news – U.K. company Green Lithium has secured funding to construct Europe’s first large-scale lithium refinery to be based in the U.K., allowing the country to produce EV batteries for the home fleet. A substantial proportion of lithium refining currently takes place in China, forcing Europe to rely on imports to fuel the EV market. However, with an anticipated 1.4 million tonnes of refined battery-grade lithium hydroxide and lithium carbonate expected to be required annually to meet EV needs by 2030, it is vital that Europe develop its lithium industry. Markets expect an increase in demand of around 400 percent. Green Lithium hopes the new refinery will also go hand-in-hand with the U.K. government’s net-zero carbon aims. Richard Taylor, Green Lithium’s founding director stated of the development, ‘By providing the missing link in the supply chain, Green Lithium aims to become the gateway to, and critical enabler for, the UK and European electric vehicle market.” Metals like lithium and copper are projected to soar in the future as governments and regulators push for a move away from fossil fuels. Goldman Sachs analysts claimed in a recent research note that copper and lithium will become the new oil, arguing that “The critical role copper will play in achieving the Paris climate goals cannot be overstated”. Copper helps power wind, solar, and geothermal technologies. And with prices increasing by around 80 percent over the last year, this is already a much sought-after commodity. Analysts expect the price of copper to increase from $9,000 per tonne to as much as $15,000 per tonne by 2025. For lithium, demand is increasing year-on-year as it continues to power batteries for EVs, as well as many electrical devices, including laptops and cell phones. The lithium-ion battery market value could reach as much as $46 billion by 2026, according to current estimates. With several big advances being made in the lithium industry, it seems that the metals market is the one to watch as energy companies ramp up their renewables research and production.