Market

 

The lithium prices in this chapter are based on the lithium export data from Chile, which represents about 43% of the world lithium (chemicals and minerals) production and for that reason it is a good indication of the lithium prices for lithium carbonate and hydroxide.

Chile has two lithium producers, which are SQM and Chemetall SCL (Sociedad Chilena de Litio). Both are using the lithium containing brine from the Salar de Atacama. Actually SQM is producing lithium carbonate with an installed capacity of 40,000 ton/year and lithium hydroxide with an installed capacity of 6,000 ton/year. SCL is producing lithium carbonate with a capacity of about 22,000 ton/year and lithium chloride with a capacity of about 4,000 ton/year.

In ‎Table 1 the export numbers for lithium carbonate, lithium hydroxide and lithium chloride are resumed. LCE stands for lithium carbonate equivalents. LCE does not include process transformation losses.

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In ‎Figure 3 the Chilean lithium carbonate export data and prices are graphically displayed.

 

Figure 1. Lithium Carbonate Export: Quantity and Price

 

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The following observations can be made from ‎the previous figure:

  • 1990-1996
    Lithium carbonate was produced from minerals and from brines by Chemetall´s SCL and Silver Peak operations. The market price was boarding around the 3,000 US$/ton.
  • 1997
    SQM started to produce lithium carbonate and dropped about 9,000 ton of lithium carbonate in the market with a price less than 1,800 US$/ton which was around 40% lower than the established price.
  • 1998-2004
    SQM started to produce lithium carbonate and dropped about 9,000 ton of lithium carbonate in the market with a price less than 1,800 US$/ton which was around 40% lower than the established price.
  • 2005-2006
    From the year 2005 the lithium carbonate price started to rise because of market shortage, caused by: o a strong increase in the demand fueled by battery applications; o production problems in the Salar de Atacama; o start-up of the lithium hydroxide plant of SQM in combination of consumed former Litchem´s lithium hydroxide stock, previously bought by SQM.
  • 2007-2008
    The lithium carbonate price maintains its strong rise up to an average export price of 5,200 US$/ton of lithium carbonate.
  • 2009
    The financial crisis is affecting the lithium demand and the Chilean export is drastically reduced. In September 2009 SQM reduced the price of lithium carbonate with 20%. Only Talison Minerals maintained its spodumene export as China was less affected by the crisis and still grew.
  • 2010
    The oversupply has forced lithium prices to go down during the year 2010, however, the demand recovered and export numbers are getting back to the high values of 2007.

 

Chilean lithium carbonate is sold through the whole world; however there are 6 countries who are the mayor clients as can be observed in Figure 4.

SQM sells its lithium carbonate to Europe mainly through the Belgium port of Antwerp, where its sales office is located. Both Chemetall and SQM are exporting lithium carbonate to the USA, however since 2008 only Chemetall further processes its lithium carbonate and chloride in its related plants. Besides that, Chemetall exports to its subsidiaries in Germany. Most probably this is the reason that lithium carbonate export prices for these countries (USA and Germany) are substantially lower than the sales prices to Belgium, South Korea and Japan (Figure 5). The lithium carbonate export prices for China are a bit lower in order to compete with the domestic lithium carbonate produced from spodumene.

Figure 2. Lithium Carbonate per Country

 

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Figure 3. Lithium Carbonate Price per Country

 

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Lithium hydroxide prices fell down during the last 3 years and the difference between the lithium carbonate prices was only about 700 US$/ton. The capacity of the lithium hydroxide is almost reached during 2010.

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