Interest in lithium continues to grow due to its role in the lithium-ion batteries that power electric vehicles (EVs). As a result, more and more attention is landing on the top lithium-producing countries.
In total, about 80 percent of the lithium produced globally goes toward battery production, but other industries also consume the metal. For example, 7 percent of lithium is used in ceramics and glass, while 4 percent goes to lubricating greases.
According to the US Geological Survey, lithium consumption for batteries has increased significantly in recent years due to the use of rechargeable lithium batteries in portable electronic devices, as well as in electric tools, EVs and grid storage applications.
Manufacturers commonly use lithium carbonate or lithium hydroxide in these batteries rather than lithium metal. Although lithium is a key ingredient in lithium-ion batteries, they also include other important battery metals, such as cobalt, graphite and nickel.
As demand for lithium continues to rise, which countries will provide the lithium the world requires? The latest data from the US Geological Survey shows that the world’s top lithium-producing countries are doing their best to meet rising demand from energy storage and EVs — in fact, worldwide lithium production rose sharply from 2021 to 2022, coming in at 130,000 metric tons (MT) of lithium content last year (not including US production), compared to 107,000 MT in 2021.
Read on for an overview of the top nine lithium-producing countries in 2022. If the EV market continues to grow, and if lithium-ion batteries continue their reign as the top batteries for EVs, it’s likely that they will produce even more of the metal in years to come.
Mine production: 61,000 MT
Kicking off this top lithium-producing countries list is Australia. It produced 61,000 MT of lithium content last year, up from 55,300 MT the year before. GlobalData forecasts that Australia’s lithium production will increase at a compound annual growth rate of 14.2 percent to reach 116,240 MT in 2026 as mines expand production to meet demand.
Australia hosts the Greenbushes lithium asset, which is operated by Talison Lithium, a subsidiary that is jointly owned by miners Albemarle (NYSE:ALB) and Tianqi Lithium (SZSE:002466) – IGO (ASX:IGO). Greenbushes is the longest continuously running mining area in Western Australia, having been in operation for over 25 years.
Australia also holds over 3.8 million MT of identified JORC-compliant lithium reserves, according to the US Geological Survey, which puts it behind Chile. It is worth noting that most of the country’s lithium supply is exported to China as spodumene.
Mine production: 39,000 MT
Chile was another top lithium producer in 2022, with its output increasing from 28,300 MT of lithium content in 2021 to 39,000 MT last year. Unlike Australia, where lithium is extracted from hard-rock mines, Chile’s lithium is found in lithium brine deposits.
The Salar de Atacama salt flat in Chile generates roughly half the revenue for SQM (NYSE:SQM), a top lithium producer. The Salar de Atacama is also the home of another top producer from lithium brine operations — US-based Albemarle. However, in April 2023, Chile surprised market participants by announcing plans to nationalize its lithium industry. Although it won’t happen immediately, the move will eventually transfer control of the operations of companies like SQM and Albemarle to a state-owned entity.
Mine production: 19,000 MT
China came third for lithium production in 2022, beating fourth place Argentina significantly. The Asian country saw its lithium supply grow slightly to 19,000 MT last year from 14,000 MT the year prior.
While lithium production in China is comparatively low, it is the largest consumer of lithium due to its electronics manufacturing and EV industries. It also produces more than three-quarters of the world’s lithium-ion batteries and controls most of the world’s lithium-processing facilities. China currently gets the majority of its lithium from Australia, but it is looking to expand its capacity.
Mine production: 6,200 MT
Lithium producer Argentina’s output ticked up by 230 MT from 2021, with the nation putting out 6,200 MT in 2022.
It’s well known that Bolivia, Argentina and Chile make up the Lithium Triangle. Argentina’s Salar del Hombre Muerto district hosts significant lithium brines, and its reserves are enough for at least 75 years.
At present, lithium mining in the country shows no signs of slowing down. Two brine operations are currently in production and 13 projects are in development, with several others in the pipeline.
Mine production: 2,200 MT
Lithium production in Brazil has taken off in the last several years, catapulting it onto the list of the top lithium-producing countries. After achieving output of 400 MT or less from 2011 to 2018, the country’s production hit 2,400 MT in 2019. Brazil’s lithium output declined during COVID-19, but 2022 was a rebound year, with output totaling 2,200 MT compared to 1,700 MT in 2021.
Brazil’s government plans to invest more than US$2.1 billion by 2030 into expanding the nation’s lithium production capacity. Companies like Sigma Lithium (TSXV:SGML,NASDAQ:SGML) and Norway’s AMG Critical Materials are expected to add to output.
Mine production: 800 MT
Zimbabwe’s lithium output in 2022 grew by 90 MT from the year prior to reach 800 MT of the battery metal for the year. Total reserves in Zimbabwe stand at 220,000 MT, as per the US Geological Survey.
China’s Sinomine Resource Group (SZSE:002738) recently acquired the country’s only lithium producer, which reportedly holds the world’s largest-known lithium deposit at over 11 million MT. The company has plans to invest US$200 million into expanding the mine’s production capacity by another 2 million MT per year; the investment will also allow it to produce lithium spodumene.
In December 2022, Zimbabwe banned the export of raw lithium in an effort to build out the nation’s capacity to process battery-grade lithium domestically. The ban excludes companies that are already developing mines or processing plants in Zimbabwe.
Mine production: 600 MT
Portugal’s lithium production dropped by a third in 2022, coming in at 600 MT compared to 900 MT in the previous year.
Most of the European nation’s lithium comes from the Gonçalo aplite-pegmatite field. Despite this lithium-producing country’s comparatively low output, Portugal’s lithium reserves stand at 60,000 MT.
Mine production: 500 MT
Canada’s lithium production totaled 500 MT in 2022. Although the nation ranks eighth in terms of output, it takes the fifth spot for largest lithium reserves at 930,000 MT of the battery metal.
While Canada is home to a wealth of hard-rock spodumene deposits and lithium brine resources, much of it remains underdeveloped, and the country is a net importer of lithium. In an effort to grow a strong North American lithium supply chain for the battery industry, the Canadian government recently invested C$27 million in E3 Lithium (TSXV:ETL,OTCWX:EEMMF), an Alberta-based lithium resource and technology company. It also awarded Prairie Lithium C$1.074 million.
9. United States
Mine production: withheld
In the final place on this top lithium-producing countries list is the US, which has withheld production numbers to avoid disclosing proprietary company data. Its only output last year came from two operations: a Nevada-based brine operation, most likely in the Clayton Valley, which hosts Albemarle’s Silver Peak mine, and the brine-sourced waste tailings of Utah-based US Magnesium, the largest primary magnesium producer in North America.
There are a handful of major lithium projects underway in the US, including Lithium Americas’ (TSX:LAC,NYSE:LAC) Thacker Pass lithium claystone project, Piedmont Lithium’s (ASX:PLL,NASDAQ:PLL) hard-rock lithium project and Standard Lithium’s (TSXV:SLI,OTCQX:STLHF) Arkansas Smackover lithium brine project.
Securities Disclosure: I, Melissa Pistilli, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.