Sustainability Metrics & Economic Growth: Lithium Mining Market

According to Inkwood Research, the global lithium mining market is expected to progress at a CAGR of 6.35% over the forecast period 2024 to 2032. The lithium mining sector plays a fundamental role in the ongoing transformation of energy and technology. It is essential for driving the electric vehicle (EV) revolution and the expansion of portable electronics

Lithium, a lightweight metal crucial in combating climate change, powers lithium-ion batteries, providing a cleaner alternative to fossil fuels and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. While lithium is critical for sustainable energy, its extraction and processing present significant environmental challenges despite its benefits.

The mining process can lead to water depletion, soil degradation, and pollution, affecting local ecosystems and communities. Additionally, the energy-intensive nature of lithium processing contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, complicating its role in the green energy transition.

Lithium Mining Market - Inkwood Research

Environmental Cost of Lithium Mining: Powering the Future at a Price?

The demand for lithium has surged in recent years, driven by the rapid rise of electric vehicles and the increasing adoption of renewable energy storage solutions. As industries shift towards sustainable practices, the importance of lithium-ion batteries in powering these technologies has surged, stimulating the demand for lithium.

According to the US Geological Survey Publications Warehouse reports, global lithium production, excluding US output, increased 23% in 2023, reaching approximately 180,000 tons compared to 146,000 tons in 2022. This rise was primarily fueled by robust demand from the lithium-ion battery market. Concurrently, global lithium consumption in 2023 was estimated at 180,000 tons, marking a significant 27% increase from the revised consumption figure of 142,000 tons in 2022

However, concerns arose over a short-term oversupply of lithium. These concerns were compounded by the expiration of the Chinese government’s decade-long subsidies for electric vehicle (EV) purchases. Additionally, weaker-than-expected EV sales worldwide contributed to a significant decrease in lithium prices in 2023.

Water Remediation & Depletion Concerns in Lithium Mining Market

Lithium mining, vital for various technologies, faces considerable environmental challenges, primarily regarding high water usage. The extraction process for lithium entails substantial water consumption, with about 500,000 gallons (1.9 million liters) needed per metric ton of lithium.

Further, the two primary extraction methods, hard rock mining and brine extraction, demand substantial water resources. In hard rock mining, lithium-bearing rock is drilled and crushed, necessitating water for dust suppression and processing. Meanwhile, brine extraction, prevalent in regions like South America’s Lithium Triangle, requires vast quantities of water to pump mineral-rich brine to the surface. This process is further intensified by the need to facilitate concentration through evaporation.

In water-scarce regions like Chile’s Salar de Atacama, mining operations consume a staggering 65% of the region’s water, impacting communities and ecosystems. Furthermore, the extraction process risks environmental contamination from toxic chemicals, threatening both water quality and human health. Concerns about water depletion and ecosystem degradation underscore the complex environmental toll of lithium extraction, challenging its sustainability narrative.

Despite these hurdles, companies like Albemarle Corporation are proactively addressing the issues. Albemarle’s initiatives include investing in water-saving technologies. These efforts are exemplified by its new lithium plant in Chile, which doubles production and reduces water consumption by 30% per tonne.

Ecological Consequences of Brine Extraction in Lithium Mining Industry

Brine extraction, a common method for lithium production, involves pumping lithium-rich brines from underground reservoirs. While less water-intensive than hard rock mining, it poses unique environmental challenges, including brine pollution. 

The process extracts lithium from underground reservoirs containing high concentrations of salts and minerals. Without proper management, spills or leaks during extraction or processing can lead to the contamination of freshwater sources and cause harm to surrounding ecosystems.

In this regard, SQM, another prominent lithium producer operating in Chile’s Atacama Desert, has faced criticism due to brine pollution incidents. The company was accused of surpassing permitted brine extraction levels, raising doubts about the long-term sustainability of its operations. As a result, from 2020, SQM is committed to enhancing its environmental practices and investing in brine treatment technologies to mitigate the risk of contamination.

Lithium Mining Market: Land Degradation & Habitat Disruption

Lithium mining also has the potential to contribute to land degradation. During hard rock mining, substantial amounts of rock and soil are excavated, resulting in landscape alteration and the risk of soil erosion. Furthermore, processing facilities may generate waste products that can contaminate soil and disturb native habitats.

Lithium Mining Market: Eco-Friendly Reclamation Techniques & Approaches 

The development of eco-friendly reclamation techniques helps rehabilitate land affected by mining activities, restoring ecosystems and biodiversity. 

Read on to learn more about these techniques —

  • Dry Processing Techniques: These methods reduce water consumption by using less water-intensive processes for ore separation.
  • Direct Lithium Extraction (DLE): This emerging technology involves extracting lithium directly from brines using specialized membranes, potentially reducing water usage and brine pollution risks.
  • Recycling: Recycling lithium from spent batteries offers a more sustainable solution, although efficient and cost-effective recycling technologies are still under development.

Stay up-to-date with what’s trending in the Global Lithium Mining Market

Governments and industry leaders have a crucial role in promoting sustainable practices — by implementing stricter regulations, investing in research and development for cleaner technologies, and promoting transparency in mining operations. These steps are essential for mitigating the environmental cost of lithium mining. 

However, technological advancements, stricter regulations, and a commitment to sustainability make it possible to harness the power of lithium for a cleaner future without compromising the environment. Therefore, the future of the lithium mining market hinges on balancing the demand for this critical resource with the imperative to protect the planet.

As electric vehicles and renewable energy storage solutions gain traction, the global demand for lithium mining surges. With an increase in demand for lithium-ion batteries across various industries, including automotive, electronics, and energy storage, the lithium mining market is expected to witness substantial expansion over the forecast period.


By Akshay Bhore

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    The most common machines used in lithium mining include jaw crushers, cone crushers, vibrating screens, ball mills, flotation cells, and leaching tanks. Additionally, heavy-duty earth movers and drilling rigs are integral for the initial extraction process.

    Major companies in the lithium mining industry include Albemarle Corporation, Sociedad Química y Minera (SQM), Livent Corporation, Ganfeng Lithium, and Tianqi Lithium. These companies are key players in the global supply of lithium.

    In lithium mining operations, lithium levels in brine or ore are frequently monitored throughout the extraction and processing stages. Regular sampling and testing are conducted to ensure the efficiency of the extraction process and the quality of the lithium produced. Depending on the operation’s scale and technology used, these checks can range from daily to weekly.