Lithium is a chemical element with the symbol Li and is a soft, silver-white metal belonging to the alkali metal group of chemical elements. Under standard conditions, it is the lightest metal and the least dense solid element.
Demand for lithium is set to soar dramatically over the coming years. It is the only element suitable for most batteries due to its light-weight nature. Smart phones, portable electronics and electric vehicles, rely on the ability to store energy, and therefore it is essential that manufacturers in these industries secure a supply of lithium.
It is recognised as a true commodity of the future, particularly with the rapid emergence of electric cars and the infrastructure to support their operation. Indeed, Goldman Sachs have termed lithium “the new gasoline” as it is expected to be the dominant electric battery technology. It was recently reported that the latest vehicle in the Tesla family, the Model 3 car, had already received 250,000 orders a mere three days after its launch. Seen as a “game changer” by Global Equities Research of Redwood Shores in California, they believe the Tesla vehicle will play a critical role in the industry’s transition to electric engines. Additionally, the outlook is equally strong across the wider EV market, with estimates that it will grow 14-fold to $140 billion by 2020, and with this, drive a 64% increase in lithium consumption over the next seven years. Indeed, prices have been forecast to rise to US$7,000/t by mid-2017.
More than half of the world’s identified resources of the mineral are found in South America’s “lithium triangle”, a unique stripe of high-altitude land covered that straddles Chile, Argentina and Bolivia. However West Africa is rapidly becoming a hugely significant region for the metal with a surge in high-grade discoveries over the last 24 months.