The company is in “full expansion mode,”Stefan Debruyne, SMQ business development director in Europe, said at the Europe Advanced Automotive Battery Conference on Thursday January 21.

“We expect to reach production capacity [in Chile] of 120,000 metric tonnes of lithium carbonate and 21,500 metric tonnes of lithium hydroxide by the end of 2021…by the end of 2023 we expect to reach 180,000 metric tonnes of lithium carbonate production and 30,000 metric tonnes of lithium hydroxide production,” Debruyne said at the virtual event.

“With regards to our joint venture in Western Australia the final investment decision will be made during the first quarter of this year. The current plan is to build a refinery for 50,000 metric tonnes of lithium hydroxide,” he said about the MT Holland lithium hydroxide project that SQM is developing in a 50/50 joint venture with Australian industrial conglomerate Wesfarmers.

“We have been saying that investment decisions need to be made now if lithium shortages are to be avoided and that seems to be starting to happening, but more of the same will be needed,” Fastmarkets head of battery raw material and base metals research William Adams said.

Global demand will hit 900,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE) by 2025, compared with 300,000 tonnes of LCE in 2020, driven by transport electrification and energy storage applications, according to Adams.

Lithium is a key ingredient in batteries that power electric vehicles and energy storage systems.

Fastmarkets assessed the lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price at $6.50-8 per kg cif China, Japan and Korea on Thursday, up from $6-7.50 per kg a week earlier, a level it has maintained since September 17 last year.