Posted July 11, 2018 03:05:38 The lithium mining sector has been a big part of Canadian and world economies for decades.
But it’s also been hit by a collapse in the global market for lithium, which has put it in the spotlight once again.
The latest statistics from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) show that the lithium industry is suffering from a slump in demand that is pushing prices lower.
“The lithium industry was a key component of the global economy until 2008,” says Jonathan Tansill, an economist at University College London’s School of Business.
“It’s very hard to see the industry surviving in the face of a market downturn.”
But the industry has been hit harder than most.
The IMF estimates that global lithium demand fell by $2.9 billion in the first half of 2018.
That’s a drop of nearly 40 per cent from a year earlier.
This was largely due to the fall in global supply.
According to the IMF, the decline in lithium demand was particularly pronounced in China.
It’s been there since the mid-2000s, and the industry accounts for more than half of all global lithium production.
The global supply was down from about one million tonnes in 2010 to less than 1,000 tonnes in 2020.
The world’s lithium supply has been cut by about a third since then, according to a report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
The collapse in global demand also has been driven by the decline of China’s energy demand, and that was the biggest factor behind the drop in demand.
“China’s coal demand has been declining steadily over the last two decades,” Tansills said.
“And the world’s demand for lithium is also declining, because of the declining demand for coal.”
But that’s not the only reason the industry is facing a slump.
Tansil says there are two reasons for the slump.
The first is that demand for energy from renewables, like wind and solar, is expected to continue to fall over the next few years.
But the other is that the Chinese government has taken a very aggressive stance on environmental regulations and has cut back on investment in renewables.
“In the past, the Chinese Government has tried to encourage the development of clean energy technologies and in some cases even the development and use of wind and sun energy,” TANSILL said.
But Tansilling says the situation has changed in the past two years, and this has forced the Chinese authorities to reduce their environmental regulations.
“For example, the government announced in October 2020 that it would ban all new wind turbines, wind parks and solar parks in 2020, and it also announced that it will impose a moratorium on new solar parks, and also on new wind projects,” Tanksill said.
TANSIL said it was likely that the government will reduce the number of wind projects, and they are expected to ramp up their use of new and existing wind energy to compensate.
But there are also signs that this policy will only get worse.
“This is one of the reasons why the Chinese are worried about the growth of renewables,” Tanskill said, adding that there is a big gap between the growth in solar and wind.
“They’re saying that renewables are growing and will grow, but it’s just a mirage,” he said.
This could also be a problem for the industry in the long term.
“There’s a mismatch between the new generation and the old generation,” Taksill said of the potential for the lithium supply to be cut.
While it’s important to keep in mind that the IMF report is a preliminary figure, Tansili believes the decline is a more serious problem for many of the industry’s products. “
We’re looking at some very high potential prices for lithium.”
While it’s important to keep in mind that the IMF report is a preliminary figure, Tansili believes the decline is a more serious problem for many of the industry’s products.
“Some of the lithium used in lithium batteries, for example, is actually made in the US,” Tinsill said: “and there are very few people that manufacture that lithium in Canada.”
For this reason, TANSill says the industry could suffer significant losses in the future.
“At the moment, the price of lithium is not a very important factor for the mining industry,” he added.
“But as the lithium price drops, the market will be able to absorb it and therefore, we will see the lithium market go down even further.”
While the slump in global lithium supply is causing a decline in demand, Tanskills said there are some companies that are actually looking to get back in the game.
“One of the companies that we’re looking to invest in is the US-based company, TerraPower, which was formed in 2015,” Tsinsill added.
TerraPower has been looking to build up its solar power business, but is currently in a holding pattern.
“So that will be the only investment we’ll make until we