The largest natural deposit of lithium is in the South American country of Bolivia. There is an estimated 21 million tons of lithium, accounting for nearly 25% of the entire world's supply. The single-largest deposit of lithium is located in the Salar de Uyuni salt flat, which is so big it can be seen from space. Most of the lithium reserves in Bolivia remain untouched and undeveloped. However, increased interest in lithium may change the status of these reserves. Bolivia has extensive plans to commercialize the lithium resources creating a booming lithium industry in the country. Ongoing political instability has postponed these plans.
Bordering Bolivia, Argentina has the second-largest lithium reserve, estimated to be close to 17 million tons. These reserves are also located in salt flats and utilize an evaporation technique to extract the high-demand material. The Salar del Hombre Muerto salt flat is the most famous resource in Argentina. There has been growing interest from foreign countries to commercialize extraction in Argentina, but the political and economic instability within the country has halted some would-be investors. Still, Argentina accounts for the third-largest lithium supplier, producing over 6,000 tons in 2019 alone.
Another South American country, Chile, owns nearly 9 million tons of lithium. Chile has created a successful mining industry, unlike the other two South American countries with lithium reserves. In 2019, Chile produced the second-most lithium in the world, extracting over 18,000 tons. The ideal climate in Chile makes extraction more affordable, and easy access to the Pacific Ocean can help transport the resource throughout the world. The primary lithium mine in Chile is the Salar de Atacama salt flat, where both US-based and local Chile operations are underway.
The US owns the fourth-largest lithium reserve, estimated to be about 6.8 million tons. Although large lithium deposits are found in the United States, extraction and export efforts are minimal. In 2019 there was only one extraction project currently underway in the United States, located in Nevada. The majority of the lithium used in the United States is imported from either Chile or Argentina. Elon Musk has unveiled large scale plans to set up a lithium mine in Nevada in the future.
In Australia, there are approximately 6.3 million tons of lithium, and it follows that the country is the largest lithium producer in the world. In a single year, Australia produced 42,000 tons of lithium, far outpacing Chile's 18,000 tons. The largest lithium mine in Australia is the Greenbushes lithium mine, a collaboration between Albermarle and Tianqi Lithium.
China has an estimated 4.5 million tons of lithium reserves and, in 2019, produced 7,500 tons of metal. China controls nearly 80% of the lithium in the world, accounting for 77% of cell phone capacity and 60% of the world's component manufacturing for electronics. Although China has access to large lithium mines, the majority of the lithium used for manufacturing comes from Australia.