Australia mines about 53 percent of the world’s supply of lithium

Deep in rural Western Australia, Pilbara Minerals’ vast processing plant looms above the red dirt, quivering as tons of a lithium ore slurry move through its pipes.

The plant turns the ore from a nearby quarry into spodumene, a greenish crystalline powder that is about 6 percent lithium and sells for about $5,700 a ton. From there, the spodumene is shipped to China, where it is further refined so it can be used in the batteries that power goods like cellphones and electric cars.

Australia mines about 53 percent of the world’s supply of lithium, and virtually all of it is sold to China. But now the Australian government wants to break the world’s dependence on China for processing the minerals driving the green revolution.

Pilbara Minerals, the country’s largest independent lithium miner, is among the companies exploring a new model for producing battery chemicals — done closer to where the lithium is mined and sold to allies like the United States and South Korea.


Chinese EV makers de facto might be unofficially locked out of western markets.

Not just because of the models offered in China are possibly smaller but the competition against China is getting tougher and tougher for China.

The other more important issue is China’s willingness to use her own resources to supply the world. That is in decline.

If battery production leaves China so will Tesla more or less.

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Plus, the trend toward nationalizing lithium in Chile, Mexico, and maybe elsewhere in South America should encourage investment in Australia.

Processing lithium to battery grade in China makes sense for batteries sold in Asia. For the US processing in Australia will save shipping costs. Probably not labor intensive but tougher environmental laws could be a factor.