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Brine pools at the Albemarle Corp. Lithium mine in Calama, Chile

Brine pools at the Albemarle Corp. Lithium mine in Calama, Chile

 Photographer: Cristobal Olivares/Bloomberg

Green
Hyperdrive

The Trouble With Lithium

The electric car market is driving insatiable demand for lithium. But a supply crisis of the wonder metal could dent the world’s chances of meeting its climate goals.

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Elon Musk wants to mine it, China is scouring Tibet for it, battery makers are crying out for it. Lithium, the wonder metal at the heart of the global shift to electric cars, is in a full-blown crisis. Demand has outstripped supply, pushing prices up almost 500% in a year and hindering the world’s most successful effort yet to halt global warming.

The shortage of lithium is so acute that in China, which makes about 80% of the world’s lithium-ion batteries, the government corralled suppliers and manufacturers to demand “a rational return” to lower prices. Analysts at Macquarie Group Ltd. warned of a “a perpetual deficit,” while Citigroup Inc. nearly doubled its price forecast for 2022, saying an “extreme” rally could be coming.