Lithium producers bullish on long-term demand despite recent price drop – ET Auto

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Lithium producers bullish on long-term demand despite recent price drop – ET Auto


“Critical minerals are the oil and gas of our energy future,” Ashley Zumwalt-Forbes, the U.S. Energy Department’s deputy director for batteries and critical materials, told the conference.

The world’s largest lithium producers told a major industry conference this week they remain bullish on long-term demand for the electric vehicle battery metal despite the recent price plunge that has forced layoffs and curtailed expansions.

Once a niche metal used primarily in ceramics and pharmaceuticals, lithium demand has grown rapidly over the past decade. But oversupply from China and a softening of aggressive EV adoption rates has dragged lithium prices down more than 80% in the last year.

The mood at the Fastmarkets Lithium Supply and Battery Raw Materials Conference in Las Vegas, the world’s largest, reflected a cautious hope among attendees that the industry can meet an expected demand jump later this decade as EVs and battery storage technologies grow more popular.

The conference had roughly 1,100 attendees, in line with last year and nearly triple 2019 levels, organizers said.

“We’re really focused on the fundamentals of the underlying business,” said Patrick Howarth, head of Exxon’s lithium division, which announced at the conference it would expand its lithium production plans in Arkansas. “We’re not scared off by low prices, and we’re not drawn in by high prices.”

Fastmarkets data show, for example, that U.S. demand for lithium will increase 29% each year through 2030, with jumps also expected throughout the rest of the world.

Critical minerals are the oil and gas of our energy future,” Ashley Zumwalt-Forbes, the U.S. Energy Department’s deputy director for batteries and critical materials, told the conference.

Zumwalt-Forbes oversees a U.S. government grant program for the critical minerals supply chain and said she was eager to have more lithium companies apply for funding.

The demand projections helped offset the somber mood that has permeated the industry in recent months after layoffs from Lake Resources, Albemarle and others.

“For those of us that are worried about the market sentiments at this moment in time, keep your eye on the long-term trajectory,” said Dale Henderson, CEO of Australian lithium miner Pilbara Minerals.

Global lithium mine supply was more than 1 million metric tons last year, a figure expected to more than double by 2026 largely due to expansions in Africa, China and Australia, according to Fastmarkets data. Yet producers warned that unless prices rise, that supply is unlikely to be available.

“We’re going to be measured and judged in how we react to prices and supply the market,” said Sarah Maryssael, chief strategy officer for Arcadium Lithium, which has development projects across the globe.

Albemarle, the world’s largest lithium producer, started the conference with a stark warning about “concerning” lithium prices, but then mapped out a plan to auction off supplies of its metals to the highest bidder and struck a hopeful tone on demand later this decade.

“I’m not worried about demand,” said Eric Norris, head of Albemarle’s energy storage business. “Ideally it’d be in the U.S. But if it’s not in the U.S., no doubt there’ll be demand elsewhere.”

  • Published On Jun 28, 2024 at 11:10 AM IST

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