Australian lithium exports hit a record high in June, with China becoming the country’s biggest buyer, according to new trade export data.
Lithium concentrate exports reached $1.163 million ($810 million) in June, a 1,189% increase from the same month last year, according to lithium export data released by the Bureau. Australian Statistics (ABS) on August 4.
Despite ongoing trade tensions with Beijing, $1.128 billion worth of lithium concentrate was exported to China, accounting for 97% of total lithium exports in the month.
Starting in late 2021, lithium exports began to increase rapidly, doubling from November to December 2021, nearly doubling again from April to May 2022, and surpassing $1 billion for the first time in June 2022, the data shows. .
Lithium is a key material used in the production of electric vehicles (EVs), renewable energy storage and rechargeable batteries for consumer devices such as cell phones, laptops and cameras, resulting in a dramatic increase in global lithium demand in recent years.
Australia is the world’s largest exporter of lithium. In 2020, 46% of the world’s lithium came from Australia, according to ABS. The Bureau expects lithium exports to continue to grow and contribute an additional $9.4 billion to the Australian economy by 2023-24.
Australia exports almost all of its lithium to China, which in 2021 accounted for over 85% of total lithium export value, and in 2022 over 94%.
Data from the bureau also showed a record trade surplus of $17.7 billion in June, driven by exports of iron ore, coal and gas. Iron ore exports rose 5.5% to $15.5 billion, with shipments to China, Vietnam and Taiwan surging.
Concern over China’s dominance in global lithium supply
However, the lithium industry has a high degree of market concentration. In 2020, five companies accounted for nearly half of global lithium production capacity, producing around 75% of global supply, according to a report released by the China Merchants Bank Research Institute on March 4.
Two of the five companies – Jiangxi Ganfeng Lithium Co. Ltd. and Tianqi Lithium Co. Ltd. – are Chinese, both of which have taken significant shares in the world’s lithium resources.
China’s dominance in the world’s lithium supply has raised concerns in the United States, with US lithium battery maker OneCharge issuing a risk report.
“More than 70% of the total global Li-ion battery manufacturing capacity is controlled by China,” the report said. “If China decides to limit supply or dramatically increase prices, it would hurt the U.S. transportation and logistics sectors, which are rapidly adopting lithium-battery electric vehicles.”
Ganfeng’s overseas footprint in lithium resources spans Australia, Argentina and Ireland, according to its 2021 annual report. Among them, Australia’s Mount Marion project is the largest source. of lithium resources from the Chinese battery giant.
Tianqi also has some of its lithium resources tied to Australia. In 2014, Tianqi Lithium acquired 51% of the shares of Windfield Holdings, the shareholder of Talison Lithium, which owns the Greenbushes lithium deposit in Western Australia, the largest hard rock lithium mine in the world.
Kathleen Li contributed to this report.