Lithium: critical, or not so critical?

Nicholas J Gardiner*, Simon Jowitt, John P Sykes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Some metals necessary to deliver renewable energy are considered critical. Metal criticality is a major factor in achieving energy decarbonization, leading to efforts to make metals uncritical. Among the most critical is lithium which, like many critical metals, represents a small-scale market experiencing significant demand increase causing price and supply volatility, thereby hindering necessary transformative investment. Global lithium demand is soaring, with current supply now dominated by pegmatite-sourced lithium hydroxide. Clay extraction has yet to be industrially proven, thus there remains uncertainty from where and in what quantity future lithium supply will come, and whether lithium remains critical, however geoscience research is best focused on pegmatite and clay-sourced lithium to improve discovery and extraction. Of five lithium criticality scenarios (business as usual; clays onstream; everything plus recycling; shift away from lithium; black swan event), only two project a longer-term criticality reduction. However, few metals will be critical over the very long term as techno-economic and environmental, social, and governance challenges can be overcome and/or metal demand will be structurally adjusted by substitution. Although criticality may be a short to medium term barrier to the energy transition, effective research and overall market forces will reduce the majority of mineral criticality over the longer term.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbergeoenergy2023-045
Number of pages6
Issue number1
Early online date8 Jan 2024
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jan 2024


Dive into the research topics of 'Lithium: critical, or not so critical?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this