Unconventional lithium sources: Can it fill the supply gap?

New and unconventional sources of lithium are being scrutinized globally, as the market seeks to address supply shortages. What are these unconventional lithium sources and will they fill the supply gap?

The report is available to read in full at this link. The report addresses these three big questions and more:

Why is there such a large lithium supply gap, and can unconventional lithium fill it?

For the remainder of the decade, there is not enough battery-grade lithium available globally to meet the soaring demand from projected sales of electric vehicles (EV). Should a supply deficit go unaddressed, not only would the cost of EVs remain higher than internal combustion engine vehicles (ICE), but EV manufacturers would also have to compromise on range and performance.

In 2021, available lithium production reached 499 kt LCE, but unparalleled demand of 302 kt LCE from sales of EVs increased by more than 100%. This moved the market into a deficit, and we saw the price of lithium increase by more than 437% from the start of the year.

Get your free copy of our full report to access our lithium supply/demand forecast up to 2030.

In the transition to a low-carbon economy, there is even greater demand for lithium and new sources and projects are coming into focus. Will they provide an opportunity to secure regional supply with shorter supply chains? In reality, these unconventional and novel recovery methods are far from reaching commercial viability.

What are the unconventional resources being explored at the moment?

Fastmarkets is analyzing different sources of lithium extraction, including geothermal brines and oilfield brines, as well as seawater extraction to give market participants a more usable view of the opportunities and risks of these resources, as well as to help understand what will come online in the next ten years.

Geothermal and oilfield brines show promise but are incredibly pricey. Many feel that even at the precommercial stage the assumptions and estimates around the potential for these sources are unrealistic and over-optimistic. Our full report includes an interactive map of the United States and Canada with geothermal and oilfield locations, start dates, initial capacity and resources to give market participants a holistic view of these potential resources.

How effective is direct lithium extraction?

When analyzing the different sources of lithium available to the market, this includes scrutinizing direct lithium extraction (DLE) technologies and the associated ESG credentials, as well as the likelihood of successful implementation.

While it is not a new technology, all but the absorbent technology is still in a precommercial stage. There are five different technologies with varying levels of effectiveness. Still, all promise to increase recovery, lower costs, reduce production times and improve the ESG footprint of lithium production compared to traditional methods. If successful, it’s estimated that DLE could unlock 25 million tonnes LCE of unconventional resources. But, the way these technologies will scale has not yet been seen.

Access the full report

Our latest report includes further detail on unconventional recovery methods, the risks associated, as well as how much future supply will come from hard rock and salar brine in the next ten years.

Interact with six charts and figures to help you understand the scale and commercial value of unconventional lithium reserves, covering:

  • Lithium concentration in water from unconventional oil and gas fields
  • The location of geothermal and oilfield brines
  • The effectiveness and readiness of DLE technologies
  • Click on this link to access all six
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