In 2022, global lithium production reached 130,000t in response to a growing demand, driven mainly by the electric vehicle (EV) industry. In this context, Mexico’s production remains stagnant while Australia and Chile take the lead.
The increase in demand and price of the mineral has raised the profitability of lithium projects. According to the latest report from the US Geological Survey, there are now a record number of 14 large mining projects for lithium extraction in operation, as Australia and Chile became the largest producers of the metal, leaving China, the largest consumer, far behind. China produced 19,000t/y of lithium in 2022, while Australia produced 61,000t. The other countries on the list produce less than 10,000t/y.
The list of lithium producers comprises only eight countries. Canada is the only country to have joined this group in the past 10 years. Nevertheless, the world’s biggest lithium reserves are located in Latin America. According to the 2021 USGS Mineral Commodity Summary, the lithium triangle of Chile, Argentina and Bolivia holds around 58 percent of the world's lithium deposits.
However, Mexico remains in the same position it has held for years, ranking tenth among countries with the largest reserves, with 1.7 million t. The US Geological Survey has not updated this data because Mexico has not provided new information. Sources from the federal government have explained that in May 2023, the Mexican Geological Survey will present an approximate figure of the lithium resources that the country may have, concentrated in areas such as Sonora, Baja California, San Luis Potosi and Zacatecas.
However, experts have warned that the Mexican government will have to invest heavily and that it will take at least 20 years to begin extracting lithium. Despite the challenges, they believe that Mexico could take advantage of the electromobility transition since its location and resources enhance its competitiveness, though these opportunities may be hampered due to state intervention and a lack of infrastructure and research. Another challenge is that Mexico's lithium reserves are in clay deposits, making extraction a difficult process.
Nevertheless, it is expected that Bacanora Lithium, the only private company with permits so far, will begin operations this year. This company and its partner, Ganfeng Lithium, had allocated around US$420 million for a mine in Sonora by March 2022.
Additionally, Advance Lithium announced that it is in talks with the state lithium company, LitioMx, to create a joint venture. The objectives of both companies are aligned as both countries are seeking for Mexico to become a lithium mining country as fast as possible.