Language selection

Search

Lithium facts

Lithium and its compounds enable clean energy and transportation through rechargeable batteries for electric vehicles and electronic products and as key ingredients in low-melting point glasses and lubricants. Lithium compounds are produced in a variety of forms including lithium carbonate (Li2CO3), lithium oxide (Li2O), and lithium hydroxide (LiOH).

Key facts

  • Manufacturing of rechargeable batteries for electronics, electric vehicles, and grid storage is the largest global use for lithium, representing 71% of total demand.
  • The Government of Canada has identified lithium as a critical mineral because it is a key material in the renewable energy transition, and Canada has the potential to be a supplier.
  • Canada does not currently produce lithium but has large hard rock spodumene deposits and brine-based lithium resources.
  • Australia is the world’s largest lithium producer, accounting for nearly half of global production in 2020. Bolivia, Chile and Argentina (the “lithium triangle”) have the largest estimated resources, with nearly 50 million tonnes of lithium between the three countries.

Learn more about lithium

Uses

Lithium is a highly reactive metal that is used to make energy-dense rechargeable batteries for electronics, such as laptops, cell phones, electric vehicles and grid storage. Demand for lithium ion batteries has grown significantly in recent years, driving global exploration and enabling new lithium projects to be considered. Batteries accounted for 71% of total demand in 2020.

Also used in glass products, lithium increases the durability, corrosion resistance, and thermal resistance for use at extreme temperatures. It is used in such items as glass-ceramic stovetops, glass containers, specialty glass, and fiberglass. Because of its natural properties, lithium contributes to improved process productivity and energy savings in glassmaking.

Lithium is a critical mineral for the energy transition, and net-zero emissions will require higher reliance on both new and recycled sources of lithium for batteries.

Lithium, global uses, 2020

circular chart
Text version

This circular chart shows the major global uses of lithium as of 2020. The largest use was for batteries (71%); followed by ceramics and glass (14%); lubricating greases (4%); continuous casting fluxes (2%); and others (9%).

Production

Canada had limited production of lithium from 2014 to 2019 and none in 2020. Several companies are currently working to develop lithium projects from traditional hard rock mining to unconventional sources such as oilfield brines and industrial wastewaters, in Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. These projects range from early exploration to an advanced stage.

The North American Lithium mine in Québec, formerly the Québec Lithium mine, reached commercial production in early 2018 and shipped spodumene concentrate to refineries in China for processing into lithium carbonate. Prices of lithium products and spodumene concentrate fell sharply later that year when global spodumene capacity nearly doubled, primarily in Australia. North American Lithium suspended production in 2019, sought bankruptcy protection, and was acquired by Sayona Québec in 2021, a joint venture between Sayona Mining (Australia) and Piedmont Lithium (U.S.). The new owners plan to restart the North American Lithium mine, develop other mining projects in Quebec, and build a lithium hydroxide refinery.

After several years of exploration and construction, Nemaska Lithium produced its first spodumene concentrate at the Whabouchi Mine in Quebec in early 2017. The company suspended production in 2019, and the mine was put on care and maintenance. After seeking bankruptcy protection, Nemaska was acquired by the Pallinghurst Group in partnership with the Government of Quebec and emerged from creditor protection in 2020. The company plans to restart the mine and build a lithium hydroxide refinery in Bécancour, Quebec.

Canada has an estimated 2.9 million tonnes of lithium resources (measured and indicated, inclusive of reserves). Lithium brines in Alberta and Saskatchewan could increase these resources as technology and processing are advanced to extract lithium compounds economically from oil and gas fields, including from existing infrastructure and industrial wastewaters.

Canadian lithium projects, 2021

map
Text version

This map shows the location, status and stage of Canadian lithium projects.

Quebec

  • The North American Lithium project is active at the advanced project stage.
  • The Whabouchi project is active at the advanced stage.
  • The Authier project is active at the advanced stage
  • The James Bay project is active at the advanced stage.
  • The Rose project is active at the advanced stage.
  • The Moblan project is active at the exploration stage.
  • The Sirmac project is active at the exploration stage.

Ontario

  • The Pakeagama Lake project is active at the advanced stage.
  • The Separation Rapids project is active at the advanced stage.
  • The Georgia Lake project is active at the advanced stage.
  • The Seymour Lake project is active at the exploration stage.
  • The Jackpot project is active at the exploration stage.
  •  

Manitoba

  • The Thompson Brothers project is active at the advanced stage.
  • The Mayville project is active at the exploration stage.
  • The Lithium Two project is active at the exploration stage.

Saskatchewan

  • The Prairie Lithium brine project is active at the advanced stage.

Alberta

  • The SBH Black Shale project is on hold at the advanced stage.
  • The Clearwater brine project is active at the advanced stage.
  • The Fox Creek brine project is active at the exploration stage.
  • The Sturgeon Lake brine project is active at the exploration stage.

International context

Australia is the global leader in lithium production, with five mines accounting for nearly half of total forecasted lithium production in 2020. Brine operations in Chile and Argentina and mines in China accounted for most of the remaining forecasted production in 2020.

China is the global leader in lithium processing for battery production.

World mine production of lithium by country, 2020
Ranking Country Tonnes Percentage of the total
1 Australia 40,000 48.7%
2 Chile 18,000 21.9%
3 China 14,000 17.0%
4 Argentina 6,200 7.5%
5 Brazil 1,900 2.3%
6 Zimbabwe 1,200 1.5%
7 Other countries 900 1.1%
World total   82,000 100%

World mine production of lithium, 2011–2020 (p)

bar graph
Text version

This bar graph shows the world's annual mine production of lithium from 2011 to 2020. After surging demand for lithium batteries to support the growing market for electronics, electric vehicles, and renewable energy storage, a surplus of supply hit the market in 2017 and 2018, driving down prices and leading to lower production in 2019 and 2020.

World reserves

More than half of the estimated global lithium resources are located in the salt flats of Bolivia, Chile and Argentina, much of that in Bolivia alone. Sociopolitical conditions have affected access to Bolivia’s resources while Chile and Argentina, which are more investor-friendly, are ranked first and third for proven reserves.

Australia ranks second in the world for proven reserves and first for production.

World reserves of lithium by country, 2020
Ranking Country

Lithium content(tonnes)

Percentage of the total
1 Chile 9,200,000 43.7%
2 Australia 4,700,000 22.3%
3 Argentina 1,900,000 9.0%
4 China 1,500,000 7.1%
5 United States 750,000 3.6%
6 Canada 530,000 2.5%
7 Zimbabwe 220,000 1.0%
8 Brazil 95,000 0.5%
9 Portugal 60,000 0.3%
  Other 2,100,000 10.0%
World total   21,055,000 100%

Trade

Exports

  • Canada exported almost no lithium carbonates in 2020 compared to 13.5 tonnes in 2019. Two countries (China and France) accounted for 91% of Canada’s lithium exports.
  • Canada exported 86 tonnes of lithium oxide and hydroxide in 2020 at a total value of $12.8 million. This was also a decline from the 41,000 tonnes exported in 2019 and 97,000 tonnes exported in 2018.
  • The decline in both lithium carbonate exports and lithium oxide and hydroxide exports in 2020 was due to the suspension of the Whabouchi and North American Lithium mines in Quebec, following the fall of global lithium prices.

Imports

  • Canada is a net importer of lithium and lithium products. Canada’s lithium imports totaled $161 million in 2020, up from $149 million in 2019. Lithium imports consist of lithium oxide and hydroxide, lithium carbonates, and manufactured lithium batteries.
  • Four countries (Chile, China, Russia, and the United States) accounted for 91 percent of Canada’s lithium imports.

Prices

Lithium carbonate spot prices have been volatile over the past decade because of soaring demand and a sudden surplus of new lithium development that developed in response.

A surge in lithium demand for use in electronics, electric vehicles and renewable energy storage led to a spike in spot carbonate prices up to US$24,000 per tonne in 2017. After a surplus of new lithium projects reached commercial production in 2017 and 2018, spot prices crashed to a low of US$12,000 per tonne by the end of 2018. The surplus was driven primarily by two new spodumene mines being considered in Australia in 2017 and five more in 2018. Prices dropped further to US$7,300 per tonne by the end of 2019 and under US$5,000 per tonne by the end of 2020.

Lithium carbonate spot prices have surged again in 2021 and continue to rise because of supply constraints and continued demand for electric vehicles.

Notes and sources

Totals may be different because of rounding.

All dollars are Canadian unless otherwise indicated.

Uses

  • Lithium, global uses, 2020
    • United States Geological Survey, Mineral Commodity Summaries 2021

Production

  • Canadian lithium projects
    • Natural Resources Canada, compiled from company reports

International context

  • World mine production of lithium by country, 2020
    • United States Geological Survey, Mineral Commodity Summaries 2011–2021
  • World mine production of lithium, 2011–2020
    • United States Geological Survey, Mineral Commodity Summaries 2011–2021

World reserves

  • World reserves of lithium by country, 2020
    • United States Geological Survey, Mineral Commodity Summaries 2021

Trade

  • Natural Resources Canada; Statistics Canada

Prices

  • United States Geological Survey, Mineral Commodity Summaries 2018-2021
Report a problem on this page
Please select all that apply:

Thank you for your help!

You will not receive a reply. For enquiries, contact us.

Date modified: