Massive US lithium discovery may challenge China's metal dominance

"It could change the dynamics of lithium globally, in terms of price, security of supply and geopolitics," one expert said.

Published: September 11, 2023 11:29am

A lithium deposit discovered in a volcanic crater along the Nevada-Oregon border may be the largest in the world, as demand soars for the metal used in electronic production while China attempts to dominate the market.

Up to 40 million tons of lithium metal is estimated to lie in the crater, which formed around 16 million years ago, the Royal Society of Chemistry's monthly magazine "Chemistry World" reported last week.

The deposits, located in Thacker Pass, are notably larger than those under a Bolivian salt flat, which were previously considered the largest in the world.

"If you believe their back-of-the-envelope estimation, this is a very, very significant deposit of lithium," Dutch geologist Anouk Borst said. "It could change the dynamics of lithium globally, in terms of price, security of supply and geopolitics."

As of 2020, China controlled 80% of the world's raw material refining, according to BloombergNEF.

Despite only having 7.9% of the world's lithium reserves, China is the third largest lithium producer on earth, per Forbes. Beijing has been buying up stakes in mines across the developing world as part of a quest to control one-third of the global lithium supply.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said earlier this year that the U.S. needs to "source more minerals" – such as lithium – for electric vehicle batteries domestically and from friendly nations as China directly or indirectly controls more than 60% of critical minerals needed for EV batteries.

Lithium Americas Corp., a Canadian-based company, is already starting construction on a mine in Thacker Pass amid failed legal challenges from environmentalists and Native American tribal leaders.

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