The countries holding a majority of the world’s known resources for manufacturing batteries are considering forming a cartel based on the OPEC model in the face of growing demand and surging prices.
There’s growing interest in a lithium OPEC in the ‘Lithium Triangle’, a colloquial term for Argentina, Bolivia and Chile, which are home to 58% of the world’s identified lithium resources.
According to Brazil’s Rio Times, the foreign ministers of the countries that make up the Triangle also hope to bring Australia, the world’s leading lithium producer, into the proposed cartel.
These ideas appear to be just that at this point. Furthermore, any plans for the future are highly dependent on another key player: China. While the country has just 6% of the world’s identified lithium resources, it is responsible for 58% of global lithium processing capacity. So even if supply is locked down by the cartel (which is far from a given, according to analysts), they’d still be extremely dependent on China when it comes to processing the raw materials. This is heightened by the fact that the country is deeply invested in South American mining projects.
Why it matters
Electric vehicles, as is often the case lately. Unprecedented volumes of lithium are required to produce the millions upon millions of vehicles that are planned for the foreseeable future.
In a similar manner to the 1970s gas crisis, which changed the entire face of the automotive industry, anyone who has tight control over lithium holds sway over the future of the automobile.
“The potential members of the lithium cartel are highly dependent on Chinese appetites, but if they decide to halt the supply of raw materials it is unlikely that a worthy replacement will be found. Lithium reserves in China’s subsoil are vastly inferior to those of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile or Australia, nor are its deposits as rich.
In the future, however, Russia may become a member of the lithium OPEC thanks to the lithium projects it is planning. The most promising among them is the project to develop the Kolmozerskoye pegmatite deposit in Murmansk Region, which Norilsk Nickel is seeking to implement in partnership with ROSATOM. The large spodumene (lithium mineral) reserves and proven processing technologies mean that Russia will not only be able to meet its own needs, but also supply lithium for export” – Comment by Leonid Khazanov / Consultant – Metals and technologies // Science columnist specializing in metals, the fuel and energy sector, and industry trends. PhD in economics. Consults foreign companies on investments in Russian mining locations and factories.