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Chinese and US capitalists struggle for control of world’s lithium deposits

Written by: Nick G. on 23 March 2022


The world’s top five lithium companies are split between China and the US, and their rivalry is intensifying for control of the resource which is in increasing demand as an essential component for batteries in the expanding electrical vehicle market.

But behind the apparently civilian application of lithium for EVs, there is also a strategic military application which underwrites the intensity of their inter-imperialist superpower rivalry.

According to the ScienceDirect website, “Practically every weapon system requires a battery to provide electrical power for various functions. The lithium battery is becoming the “power source of choice” for a large number of these military systems. Lithium technology offers unique solutions to the combination of requirements imposed by military systems — low weight, low volume, long storage life, low life cycle cost, and immediate readiness over the full military environmental condition spectrum.”

In Australia, there are 57 companies involved in lithium exploration and mining listed on the Australian Stock Exchange, testimony to the feverish scramble to gain a foothold in such a lucrative market.

Already mining lithium at Western Australia’s Mt Marion site (above) is the world’s largest lithium producer, China’s Ganfeng Lithium. It owns 50% of the Mt Marion parent company RIM. It also owns a 6.86% stake in a lithium mine in the Pilbara.

Established in 2000 by Li Liangbin, formerly a researcher at a lithium plant in Jiangxi Province, where it is now based, the company entered the spotlight in 2009, when it became the first in China to set up facilities to extract lithium carbonate usable in batteries from salt lake brine. After raising capital on the Shenzhen stock exchange in 2010, it began investing in lithium projects abroad, and currently has production facilities in Australia, Argentina, Mexico and Ireland.

Ganfeng accounted for 24% of global output of lithium hydroxide last year for a total annual profit of RMB5,736,833,100 (around US$903m).  That represented a massive year-on-year increase of 408.91%.

The company aims to boost last year’s lithium-compound production capacity of 90,000 tons to at least 200,000 tons by 2025, enough for more than 4 million electric-vehicle batteries. Its goal is to eventually lift capacity to 600,000 tons per year.

Also active in Australia is Tianqi Lithium which has the Greenbushes lithium deposit in WA, the world's largest hard-rock lithium mine, 250km south of Perth.

Tianqi Lithium says its global lithium concentrate output jumped 39% and sales were up 56% respectively on a year-on-year basis from January to February this year.

Apart from the folly of providing lithium to the world’s two largest manufacturers of military equipment, why is an Australian government incapable of nationalising resource extraction and using the profits for the benefit of the Australian people?

Of course, it’s a rhetorical question, and we all know the answer.

Until we throw capitalism out and have a socialist Australia under working class state power, the most obvious and beneficial initiatives will never be brought to fruition.



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