Not only are environmentally friendly lithium technologies in demand by consumers, of course — governments around the world are investing in their development and creating legislation to support their use as a renewable, clean-energy alternative to fossil fuels. In its efforts for energy independence, the U.S. recently committed nearly $30 billion toward advanced technology vehicle manufacturing and the battery market, while China has dedicated $15 billion to expanding its electric vehicle industry. Like the U.S., which currently offers $7,500 incentives, early every major industrialized nation is offering tax rebates to consumers for the purchase of electric and hybrid vehicles. According to China's National Development and Reform Commission, the country may subsidize purchases of at least 4 million energy-efficient vehicles by 2012.
Source: Multipath Study Phase 1, Maximum Electric Scenario,
Current or Planned Lithium-ion Powered Vehicles
General Motors Nissan
Hyundai Tesla Motors
Here is a glimpse at the numbers behind the lithium industry:
By 2012 the EV market is expected to grow to $17.5 billion, and $25 billion in 2014— a 90-fold increase over 2009.— Market Research Firm Fuji Keizai
Current annual demand for lithium is below 115,000 metric tons — mostly in ceramics, glass and in consumer electronics. This could grow to 300,000 metric tons by 2020.— TRU Group
Hitachi has taken an order for $11 billion worth of diesel hybrid rail drive units with lithium ion storage batteries.— New Energy and Fuel, "The Battery Explosion Is Coming" Feb. 4, 2010
Electric type cars could make up 35% of new vehicles by 2020.— Dundee Securities Corporation
At current growth rates, supply will have keeping up with demand: With continued 25 percent yearly growth in portable electronics, there would only be enough lithium carbonate for 1.5 million Chevy Volt-type vehicles by 2015 with "optimum production increases."— Meridian International Research
"Although lithium markets vary by location, global end-use markets are estimated as follows: ceramics and glass, 31%; batteries, 23%; lubricating greases, 10%; air treatment, 5%; continuous casting, 4%; primary aluminum production, 3%; and other uses, 24%. Lithium use in batteries expanded significantly in recent years because rechargeable lithium batteries were being used increasingly in portable electronic devices and electrical tools". — USGS
Source: U.S. Department of Energy
The impact of Asia
The overall demand and utilization of lithium battery technologies is 2 to 3 years ahead in Asia compared to the Americas and Europe. Government mandates are firmly entrenched at every stage of lithium supply chain, and subsidies have been introduced for EVs in 5 large Asian cities as well as sweeping CO2 emission standards taking effect now. To understand the magnitude of the market, consider that there are already 120 million electric scooters and bicycles in China, and that leading lithium battery manufacturer BYD is already produced 500,000 EV units in 2009.
Beyond electric vehicles
While electric and hybrid vehicles are grabbing all the headlines, it is important to understand the impact on other markets. Developing nations such as China and India continue to move toward more efficient manufacturing of better-quality glass, for example, which means a greater need for lithium. Dramatic increases in lithium battery production have the potential to drive up pricing for other industrial applications, forcing companies to look for a strategic partner to provide supply at an economically viable price. Key strategic markets for such partnerships include aluminum, ceramics and glass, and aerospace.