Demand for lithium, a key component for electric vehicle batteries, is expected to surge, from 500,000 metric tons of lithium carbonate in 2021 to three to four million metric tons in less than a decade, according to McKinsey & Company.
Albemarle, the world's top producer of this critical metal and the operator of mines in Australia, Chile and the U.S., says it plans to bring another domestic lithium mine online by 2027 — Kings Mountain in North Carolina. It already operates Silver Peak in Nevada.
Albemarle is also building a $1.3 billion processing facility in South Carolina, where it will process battery-grade lithium hydroxide. The plant will support the manufacturing of 2.4 million electric vehicles annually and be able to process lithium from recycled batteries.
Despite that growth, Albemarle faces a number of potential headwinds including a possible economic downturn that could slow the demand for EVs, new battery chemistries that could reduce the need for lithium, battery recycling and additional competitors. Tesla began construction of a lithium refinery in Texas in 2023.
To better understand how lithium, known as "White Gold," is extracted, the challenges involved and where production is moving to next, CNBC got a behind-the-scenes look at Albemarle's operations in Chile and the U.S.