The electric vehicle industry is likely to be hit with uncertainty as lithium, a crucial ingredient in batteries used in EVs is becoming more expensive. The price of lithium carbonate, as per various reports, has gone up 432% year-over-year, nearly $62,000 per metric ton in April 2022. Six years ago, it averaged around $11,000.
Benmark Market Intelligence said the price of lithium jumped more than 600% since the start of the year, from about $10,000 per metric tonne in January 2022 to $62,000 in June 2022. Citigroup has also predicted more extreme price hikes. Platts Analysts say the soaring prices have been driven by surging demand for light-duty EVs. The sale of light-duty EVs doubled to 6.3 million units in 2021 and is projected to hit 26.7 million units by 2030.
In China, prices for lithium carbonate, jumped to a record high of $41,060 per tonne – more than five times higher than last January. S&P Global Market Intelligence forecasted lithium supply to jump to 636,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate equivalent in 2022. Demand is set to go higher to 641,000 tonnes.
Gavin Montgomery, research director for battery raw materials at Wood Mackenzie, said the industry is entering a sort of new era in terms of lithium pricing over the next few years because the growth will be strong. In a recent report, Fitch highlighted that lithium supply will face a number of vulnerabilities like geographical concentration, and limited presence of established and large mining players.
Joe Lowry, an expert on the global lithium market and founder of Global Lithium LLC, agreed with Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s statement that lithium will be a limiting factor. A commodity price reporting agency FastMarkets said lithium supplies could collapse relative to demand as soon as 2026.
Lithium is the next gold
Industries’ focus is now on lithium, an element touted as the next gold! Irrespective of its usage in EVs, lithium comes with environmental costs. Fairfield Market Research says more than 2.2 million liters of water are needed to mine one tonne of the metal. Its extraction is associated with the release of borax, potassium, and manganese into local water supplies.
Moreover, lithium mines for decades gone by have been exploiting the indigenous populations and children. Amnesty International said lithium mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo are notorious for using child labor. There are also documented violations of Indigenous rights by lithium miners in Argentina.