SHANGHAI, Mar 25 (SMM)—SMM lithium team visited lithium salts plants in Jiangxi from March 2 to investigate their new projects and projects under construction. As an important area for lithium smelting, Jiangxi currently has 7 smelters with a capacity of more than 10,000 mt, 4 of which use lepidolite concentrate as a main raw material.
Domestic lithium resources mainly include spodumene concentrate, lepidolite concentrate and salt lake brine. The proven reserves of domestic lepidolite concentrate have exceeded 5 million mt of lithium oxide equivalent. Mines are mainly concentrated in the Jiangxi Yichun Tantalum-Niobium mining area and Yifeng Huaqiao mining area. The grade of the concentrate is between 0.4% and 0.8%. In 2021, the production capacity of lepidolite-based lithium carbonate in Jiangxi will be expanded to approximately 100,000 mt per year, accounting for about 23% of China’s total lithium carbonate capacity.
The expansion of lithium carbonate production in Jiangxi is impressive. Are the raw materials sufficient?
An SMM survey showed that lithium carnobate producers in Jiangxi have expanded capacity significantly in 2021, with lithium concentrate mainly supplied by Australian mines, and lepidolite mainly supplied by the two major mining areas in Jiangxi. The current lepidolite concentrate prices have risen to 1,700-1,800 yuan/mt, with an increase of 125% over last year. The annual processing capacity of the two major mining areas can reach 5.5 million mt of raw lepidolite ore in 2021. Therefore, it is estimated that domestic annual output of lithium carbonate produced from lepidolite can reach 65,000 mt, with the capacity utilization rate of about 65%.
Will the expansion be affected by by-products and waste materials? Lepidolite ore mainly includes lithium carbonate, rubidium cesium salt, tin concentrate and tantalum niobium. Producers use about 19-20 mt of lepidolite concentrate to produce 1 mt of lithium carbonate. Due to the addition of other supplementary materials, it will generate over 20 mt of waste slag during the production process. Such a large amount of waste has also become a major problem. At present, enterprises mainly use waste materials for bricks and cement. Manufacturers in Jiangxi have stable tail slag suppliers, so the volume of waste slag will not affect future expansion plans for the time being.
Jiangxi lithium carbonate output rebounded in March, with some producers stepping up production significantly
Capacity utilization rate was relatively low in February as some plants suspended production for maintenance and due to the Chinese New Year holiday. But lithium carbonate output is expected to rise 43.7% from February to about 5,000 mt in March as energy supply and production have returned to normal and as some new production lines have come online.
Lithium carbonate prices have risen slower in March
Lithium carbonate prices have risen slower in early March. Domestic large-scale materials plants mainly purchase lithium carbonate at about 80,000 yuan/mt. Although smelters have tried to raise prices, weaker demand has weighed on prices. Lithium carbonate supply has increased gradually as smelters in Jiangxi and Qinghai have restarted production, while downstream users mainly stood on the sidelines. Demand from materials plants is expected to stand at 21,000-22,000 mt per month in the first half of 2021, and supply is likely to peak in May. Lithium carbonate prices may start to fall in Q2.