Material flow analysis of lithium in China

Han Hao, Zongwei Liu, Fuquan Zhao*, Yong Geng, Joseph Sarkis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

159 Citations (Scopus)


Lithium has an increasingly strategic role as clean technologies emerge. This strategic role is especially evident for electric vehicle technology with a critical dependence on lithium-ion battery technology. China is the world's largest lithium consumer due to its rapid economic development, large population, and soaring consumer demand for electric vehicles driven by stricter air quality control regulations. Given this background, this study introduces the first lithium material flow analysis (MFA) for China. This MFA will inform national lithium management plans. The MFA results indicate that China's consumption was 86.7 kt of lithium carbonate equivalent in 2015, accounting for 50% of the global total. China's lithium resource is highly dependent on imports, 70% of spodumene concentrate is imported from Australia alone. Along the material life cycle (value) chain, lithium outflows were primarily from exports of lithium chemicals and lithium-embodied products. Remaining lithium in-use stocks are embodied in electric vehicles, consumer electronics, lubricating greases, and glasses/ceramics. Electric vehicle sales growth projections will likely increase China's dependence on lithium imports, lead to potential lithium supply security concerns for China. Large amount of lithium stock embodied in electric vehicles and other lithium-ion battery-containing products implies more opportunities for lithium recycling in a circular economy context.

Original languageEnglish
Peer-reviewed scientific journalResources Policy
Issue numberMarch
Pages (from-to)100-106
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - 10.12.2016
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article - refereed


  • 512 Business and Management
  • Lithium
  • Material flow analysis
  • Lithium-ion battery
  • China
  • Electric vehicle


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