Geopolitics of lithium

It is sufficient to follow the money. Since big investment corporations–such as BlackRock and Capital Group–started focusing on the lithium industry, it has become clear  that the silvery-white alkali metal isn’t only a fad, but a wave of the future.

Lithium reserves in the world

Expansion of tech companies

For instance, the shares of Abermarle–the largest lithium producer in the world–increased in value 56% in 2015 and 30% in 2016. The reason for such a boost is undoubtedly linked to the overwhelming expansion of tech companies that require larger quantities of lithium-ion batteries. Nevertheless, if the lithium demand growth could be considered marginal in the production of small electronic devices, in other rising fields–for instance, of electric vehicles–it will surely be significant.

Elon Musk–the CEO of a well-known tech company–recently announced that by the end of 2018 over 500.000 new electric cars will be produced; assuming each of those vehicles require approximately 50 kg of lithium, his company itself will use about 25.000 tons of lithium in 2018 only for one specific model–which will account for about the 10% of the world supply.

Australia, Argentina and Chile

However, last year, according to the United States Geological Survey, the identified lithium resources in the world have been revised to approximately 40 million tons–mainly, obtained from mines in Australia, Argentina and Chile. That’s why governments and companies from all over the world started reconsidering this (so far) underrated element and the above mentioned countries that mainly produce it.

While Chile is considering this white oil as a strategic asset, Argentina is attracting a considerable amount of investors, and Bolivia is limiting the lithium production–even though it has the most abundant mines in the world. On the other hand, China, which can boast the second largest lithium reserve in the world, recently announced the production of 5 millions electric vehicles by the end of 2020 and continues investing in Australian mines.

Environmentally-friendly

Since lithium is quite abundant on earth–and also seems environmentally-friendly–its fortune is likely going to be preferable. Although it’s still early to compare it to the petroleum market and speculate on a possible overwhelming effect, it is clear that the white oil fever has started, and pawns are taking their strategical positions on the international chessboard.

Moreover, if we consider the geopolitical importance that oil had in the last centuries –in particular, the tremendous amount of wars that have been related to it–, it is clear how we all should promote the ideas underlying this lithium demand, by learning from our past mistakes. The ‘lithium-ion age’ is only at the beginning.


About the Author : 

 

After he got graduated in Law, Jesse Colzani is currently studying International Relations at the University of Milan; his field of interest includes diplomatic relations, international law, human rights and IO management. 

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