The aim of this keynote presentation was to provide a global overview of the lithium industry, to provide context for a conference, that due to its location was Australian focused. That been said, some commentary on the growing Western Australian lithium industry was also provided.
- Lithium demand is growing fast, driven by a wide range of battery applications, which are in turn changing the structure of demand, the lithium supply chain and potentially raw material requirements – though much still remains uncertain;
- Geologically ‘brine’ salars and ‘hard rock’ pegmatites remain the most important lithium deposit types in terms of production and undeveloped resources, however, there are some interesting emerging sedimentary / clay deposits and unconventional brine concepts – and lithium remains very ‘under explored’ globally;
- Spodumene pegmatites in Australia are the fastest growing source of supply, however, long-term competitiveness may be dependent on successful downstream integration targeting the battery industry;
- The concept of a Western Australian ‘Lithium Valley’ is possible, despite high costs, due to the number of quality mines, proximity to Asia, and the unit reduction in freight costs associated with the low grade spodumene concentrate, in addition to the ‘cluster effect’ of many minerals businesses, specialists and students;
- The ‘green’ association of lithium use presents a challenge of ‘strategic coherence’ to explorers and miners impacting decisions around exploration, mining, investors, stakeholders, and leadership;
- But remember, we are in an unsustainable ‘lithium boom’ of high prices and high volume growth – future long-term growth of the industry is reliant on structurally lower prices, and thus structurally lower costs.
As part of promotional activities for the conference, I did an interview with the AusIMM about the lithium industry. A copy of the interview can be found on the AusIMM Lithium 2019 website or downloaded above. The interview covered the role of ‘flexibility’ in lithium production strategy, potential substitution threats for lithium, and the prospect of a ‘Lithium Valley’ in Western Australia.