The Lithium Race In the Arctic Is Almost a Reality


Figure 1. Average lithium carbonate price from 2010 to 2023 (in U.S. dollars per metric ton)

Source: Statista 2024

In 2023, lithium prices collapsed due to a glut in the market (Fig.1). It happened everywhere except Russia, which stopped producing its own lithium in the 1990s, and has now lost its traditional suppliers, Chile and Argentina.. they have stopped supplies so far. Bolivia remains, but the Chinese are actively developing joint ventures there for lithium mining and production. The analysis shows that today Russia needs 300,000 tonnes of lithium. By 2035, the need will increase to 3,200,000 tonnes.

To meet domestic needs for lithium raw materials, the Development Strategy of Russian metallurgical industry for the period up to 2030 envisages to develop five large lithium deposits, two of them are located in Murmansk region beyond the Arctic Circle.

Thus, the development of the Kolmozersky lithium deposit, the largest in Russia, is carried out by the Polar Lithium company, a joint venture of MMC Nornickel and the Rosatom corporation. It contains about 19% of the entire Russian lithium ore reserves. The company plans to have Kolmozersky reserves approved by the State Commission for Mineral Reserves in Q2 2025. Preliminary exploration results suggest that the deposit may exceed forecasts approved back in the 1960s. The project involves up to 40 years of production of lithium carbonate and hydroxide (LiOH) in the amount of 45,000 tonnes per year, while investments are estimated at 49 billion rubles. Kolmozersky deposit plans to reach full capacity only by the end of this decade, but in any case, this project is so large that it will immediately bring Russia into the top five global lithium producers.

Arctic Lithium

Source: Atomic-energy.ru

It is said that to achieve the target of 3,200,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate by 2035, it will be necessary to develop at least 71 deposits additionally at the Kolmozersky level.

Arctic Lithium, a newcomer company, with support of Rosatom corporation, is in charge for the development of Polmostundra lithium deposit. After reaching full capacity (although it is not known when, it is not reported anywhere), Arctic Lithium should annually produce approximately 18,000 tonnes of Lithium carbonate equivalent. The social aspect plays a crucial role in this project: the company is expected to invest in the development of the Lovozero region.

What should be also noted is companies’ interaction with the indigenous - the Sami, who traditionally live in the Lovozersky district of the Murmansk region. Direct broad consultations with indigenous and reindeer herding peoples began six months before receiving a license for the development of the Kolmozersky field, in summer 2021. The Sami were offered a procedure to obtain Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) for the development of the field. The principle of FPIC is stipulated in Article 32 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The bottom line is that in order to use territory that is historically considered the territory of the indigenous people, it must be obtained by the state authorities or business.

Last but not least we shall mention that in Russia, obtaining consent to develop natural resource deposits in areas where indigenous peoples live is not an act of goodwill of businessmen, but rather a legal necessity prescribed in the standards of responsibility for residents of the Arctic zone. In comparison, in the United States there are dozens of laws protecting the cultural values of the indigenous, but there is not a single one that obliges the authorities and business to adhere to the principle of FPIC.

Ekaterina Serova