LITHIUM CONF: Flexibility is key for lithium industry, executives say

The flexibility to either produce lithium carbonate or hydroxide is essential to surviving in the lithium industry in the coming years, market participants said at Fastmarkets’ 11th Lithium Supply and Markets Conference in Santiago, Chile, on Tuesday June 11.

With lithium hydroxide continuing to grow in market share globally, participants expect the material to overtake lithium carbonate as the preferred choice of lithium compound used in lithium-ion (li-ion) batteries within the next decade.

Lithium carbonate, however, is still expected to have strong demand as it is currently the most widely used lithium compound in li-ion batteries.

“We need to be prepared for either product the customer is demanding,” Pablo Altimiras, vice president of lithium and iodine business for SQM, said. “Hydroxide consumption is growing more rapidly than carbonate, but we will still have high levels of carbonate demand for many, many years.”

Producers agree that this flexibility comes from working closely with consumers, as lithium products are seen as almost “tailor-made” depending on end-user necessities.

“Demand for this or that specific product will depend on the evolution of the battery market and of course what the customers are looking for,” David Ryan, vice president for corporate strategy and investor relations at Albermarle, said.

“Overtime, we see a more significant shift to hydroxide, but carbonate will always be a great part of our portfolio,” Ryan added.

“There are going to be nuances in demand, regarding each particular market, the specifications of the material needed, and others. So, you have to be flexible and grow in relationship with your customers,” said Emma Hall, vice president for corporate development and marketing at Tianqi Lithium Co.

Fastmarkets’ lithium carbonate price index in China was last calculated at 74,458 yuan ($10,766) per tonne ex-works on June 6, from 74,686 yuan per tonne ex-works a week earlier.

Meanwhile, Fastmarkets’ lithium hydroxide monohydrate domestic spot price assessment in China was 83,000-88,000 yuan per tonne ex-works on June 6, stable since May 23 but down from 85,000-90,000 yuan per tonne on May 16.

“China is a very important market and we are always closely watching what happens in the country, regarding different levels of qualities and different end uses, as it is also a supplier of batteries and electric vehicles to the rest of the world,” Ryan said.