2013 Top 8 Lithium-producing Countries

2013 Top 8 Lithium-producing CountriesLithium has been getting plenty of attention lately with news surrounding Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA) and an expanding market for lithium-ion batteries. Lithium producers are no doubt excited, as are investors and analysts. In this light, it is interesting to take a look at where the world’s lithium is coming from. 

The US Geological Survey recently released its 2014 report on lithium, and Lithium Investing News took the opportunity to read up on the top producing countries for 2013. Below is a list of last year’s top lithium producers as described by the US Geological Survey.

1. Chile

Mine production: 13,500 tons

In 2013, Chile was the world’s top producer of lithium, producing 13,500 tons. The number represents an increase over the country’s 2012 production of 13,200 tons.

Chile is home to Salar de Atacama. Nestled between the Andes and the Cordillera de Domeyko, a secondary mountain range of the Andes, Salar de Atacama is a large salt flat that is surrounded by mountains and has no drainage outlets. The salt flat is a dried bed of an ancient Chilean lake and is home to neither plants nor animals; however, some 130 feet below the surface there is brine containing lithium that can be pumped from the ground. Salar de Atacama alone is responsible for 27 percent of the world’s lithium reserves.

2. Australia

Mine production: 13,000 tons

Australia was next, producing 13,000 tons of lithium in 2013, an increase from 2012′s production of 12,800 tons.

Talison Lithium (TSE:TLH), the world’s largest primary lithium supplier, operates in the country, and its Greenbushes lithium operation has been in production for more than 25 years. Currently, Talison is the only primary lithium supplier that does not produce from brine, but instead from rock mining. It has recently expanded due to growing demand for lithium from the battery industry, though it already supplies around one-third of the world’s lithium and 75 percent of China’s in particular.

3. China

Mine production: 4,000 tons

China came in at a distant third. The country produced 4,000 tons of lithium in 2013, down from the 2012 level of 4,500 tons.

Lake Zabuye, a mountain-surrounded salt lake in the Shigatse Prefecture of Tibet Autonomous Region, is the namesake of the mineral zabuyelite, or lithium carbonate, which was discovered there in 1987. Lithium carbonate has been mined at the lake since 2004, and Zhabuye Lithium owns exclusive mining rights to the lake.

4. Argentina

Mine production: 3,000 tons

In fourth place was Argentina with 3,000 tons of lithium production in 2013, an increase from 2,700 tons the year before.

Like Chile, Argentina has many salt pans. The most important one for lithium production is Salar del Hombre Muerto, located in Northwestern Argentina. Situated near a desert, the barren salt pan occasionally receives enough rainfall to cover its surface with water, which then evaporates to form a layer of brine. That brine is rich in lithium, which is extracted by pumping it into solar ponds; a concentrated solution of lithium is then produced through evaporation.

Two other salt pans, Salar de Olaroz and Salar de Rincon, are also currently under development.

5. Zimbabwe

Mine production: 1,100 tons

Zimbabwe produced 1,100 tons of lithium in 2013, increasing its output from 1,060 tons in 2012.

Zimbabwe has been producing lithium for 60 years, according to the country’s Chamber of Mines. Over 11 million tons of lithium-containing resources exist at Bikita, making it the largest deposit of its kind in the world; however, production amounts to much less by volume as even very rich ores do not contain much lithium.

6. Portugal

Mine production: 570 tons

Last year, 570 tons of lithium were produced in Portugal, marking a narrow improvement from 2012, when 560 tons were produced.

Production comes from aplite-pegmatite viens in the Gongalo or Guarda region. Mining in this region tends to produce milled ore with a content of around 1-percent lithium. That said, there are other places in the country that may contain lithium. Those are largely sites in mountain ranges.

7. Brazil

Mine production: 150 tons

A drastic difference from those at the top of the list, Brazil managed to put out 150 tons of lithium in 2013, staying constant from 2012.

The existing lithium reserves in Brazil have not been measured consistently, but there are certainly known lithium ores in the country. These exist in Minas Gerais in Aracuai and Itinga, as well as in the state of Ceara in the municipality of Quixeramobim. Like Portugal, Brazil has lithium in pegmatite rock rather than in salt lakes.

8. United States

Mine production: undisclosed 

The production data for lithium in the US has been withheld to avoid disclosing proprietary company information, as only one active lithium mine exists in the country. The mine is operated by Rockwood Lithium, a subsidiary of Rockwood Holdings (NYSE:ROC).