World’s Largest Lithium Producer, Albemarle, on the Rise

McKinsey & Company predicts that demand for lithium, which is a key part of the batteries in electric cars, will rise from 500,000 metric tons of lithium carbonate in 2021 to three to four million metric tons in less than a decade.

Albemarle, which runs mines in Australia, Chile, and the U.S., is the world’s largest maker of this important metal. By 2027, it plans to open a new lithium mine in North Carolina called Kings Mountain. It runs Silver Peak in Nevada already.

In South Carolina, Albemarle is also erecting a $1.3 billion processing facility where it will work with battery-grade lithium hydroxide. The facility will be able to process lithium from used batteries and assist the annual production of 2.4 million electric vehicles.

Despite this expansion, Albemarle still confronts a number of potential challenges, such as a potential recession that would limit demand for electric vehicles, new battery chemistries that might eliminate the need for lithium, battery recycling, and more rivals. In Texas, Tesla started building a lithium refinery in 2023.

CNBC was given a behind-the-scenes tour of Albemarle’s operations in Chile and the United States to gain a better understanding of how lithium, often known as “White Gold,” is extracted, the difficulties encountered, and where production is shifting to next.

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