The question of supply and demand in lithium has been a popular topic among key market participants at Industrial Minerals’ Lithium Supply & Markets Conferences in recent years, often with a focus on understanding the price evolution of the diverse lithium compounds.
Last year, at the beginning of Industrial Minerals’ 9th Lithium Supply & Markets Conference in Montreal, Canada, various delegates expressed their concerns about the possibility of oversupply in the lithium market before the end of the year. But that scenario did not develop.
The lithium market entered the fourth quarter of 2017 quite tight in terms of supply, pushing the prices for most lithium compounds upward. The most seriously affected was the price of battery-grade lithium carbonate in China, which reached historic highs similar to the prices reached in June 2016 of $27 per kg, according to Industrial Minerals’ assessments.
"I believe that one of the most difficult challenges for the industry is to be able to forecast future supply and demand. The Lithium industry has historically underestimated demand and overestimated supply. Bringing so many experts together should help to achieve that objective," Felipe Smith vice president of business intelligence & business development at SQM told Industrial Minerals.
Influenced by that tightness in availability, the spot price of battery-grade lithium carbonate, min 99.5%, ex-works China, rose to 170,000-180,000 yuan ($26,506-28,065) per tonne on November 2 last year, remaining around that level until the end of the year.
Since then, the spot price for this grade of lithium carbonate has gone down to 135,000-140,000 yuan per tonne
, according to Metal Bulletin's assessment on May 4 this year.
The price decrease in the Chinese spot market
was mainly driven by a deceleration in the consumption of lithium compounds in China, alongside the availability in the Chinese marketplace of cheaper material that could be modified for battery use.
Through May 2018, battery-grade lithium carbonate prices have remained steady in the range of 135,000-140,000 yuan per tonne. And according to most of the lithium producers and consumers in China spoken to by Industrial Minerals, there are as yet no signs of oversupply in the region’s markets. But, as in 2017, some have suggested that this could happen before the end of this year.
New supplies, renewed debate
On February 26 this year, the release of a report by Morgan Stanley, titled "The long-term pain of new supply", revived the debate.
But while the new sources of lithium supply that are set to come on stream over the next three years are likely to lead to surpluses, there are also probable delays and ramp-up issues that should keep such surpluses relatively small, according to William Adams, head of battery research at Metal Bulletin.
"The risks to this scenario are that demand for battery materials rises even faster than expected," Adams said. "At Metal Bulletin, we expect any supply surpluses to be absorbed by growth in downstream capacity expansions, and do not foresee any surplus weighing significantly on prices."
Many other topics have taken center-stage at past Lithium Supply & Markets Conferences, such as the increasing use of lithium hydroxide compounds by battery makers, the difficulties of bringing greenfield lithium projects online, and the importance of partners in the development of lithium junior projects.
Industrial Minerals 10th Lithium Supply & Markets Conference will be held on June 26-28 this year at Las Vegas, in the US state of Nevada. It will follow the rapidly evolving lithium industry by presenting speakers from the battery industry and key participants from the cobalt and graphite sectors, as well as investors.
"As a transformation takes place in terms of how energy is stored and used around the world, our industry must expand faster than ever before," Tom Schneberger chief operating officer at FMC Lithium, told Industrial Minerals. "The Industrial Minerals Lithium Supply & Markets Conference provides diverse viewpoints as to the capabilities and challenges that our industry will face during this transitional period."
'The one not to miss’
Industrial Minerals has been covering the lithium market since the 1980s, and Metal Bulletin has been the world pricing benchmark for cobalt for more than 40 years. This has driven the two price-reporting agencies to increase their coverage of these markets, to provide subscribers with enhanced market pricing intelligence and news, as well as hosting conferences.
"Industrial Minerals Lithium Supply & Markets Conference is the yearly global lithium meeting-place for stakeholders involved in the lithium industry," a lithium supplier told Industrial Minerals. "It has improved [and become bigger] since the first time it was held. It is definitely the lithium conference of the year and the one not to miss."
Delegates to this year’s event will be able to enjoy a much-anticipated visit to the Tesla Gigafactory. "We look forward to interacting with the industry’s best minds, and hosting many of you at the official Tesla Gigafactory tour," Vivas Kumar, Tesla’s battery supply chain manager, told Industrial Minerals.
This year’s conference will also include two other field trips, one to the Global Geoscience Rhyolite Ridge site to meet senior management there, and the other to the Lithium Americas Lithium Project.
"I believe that, over the years, Lithium Supply & Markets Conference has consolidated as one of the most relevant conferences within the Lithium industry. It brings together suppliers, distributors, consumers, investors, analysts and media, among others. I recommend it to anyone who wants to get a good overview of what the Lithium industry foresees in terms of supply and demand," Felipe Smith told Industrial Minerals.
"I will always have great memories from the first conference, that took place in Chile. We organized a field trip to the Salar de Atacama, including a fantastic lunch in the middle of the salt lake. People enjoyed such exotic location," he added.
Industrial Minerals and the Metal Bulletin Group have not only sought to excel by presenting great opportunities and topics to key lithium market participants attending this year’s conference, but also to enhance our market intelligence by working closely with stakeholders worldwide.
Recently, a lithium spotlight
and a lithium trade log
have been made available to help guide the lithium industry, and a global lithium wrap
is now published weekly to bring transparency and pricing intelligence to the global lithium market.