Around 5m tonnes of lithium deposits found in southwest China

The find could help China become less reliant on lithium imports as its electric vehicle industry grows rapidly

    Demand for electric vehicles, powered by lithium batteries, is growing rapidly [File: Ng Han Guan/AP]
    Demand for electric vehicles, powered by lithium batteries, is growing rapidly [File: Ng Han Guan/AP]

    An estimated five million tonnes of lithium deposits have been found in China's southwestern province of Yunnan, scientists said, potentially curbing the nation's reliance on imports of the material, used in electric vehicle batteries.

    The Institute of Geochemistry, under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, announced the discovery in a statement on its website on Monday. State media, including the China Daily newspaper, reported the find on Wednesday.

    Demand for lithium is growing rapidly as some consumers shift away from cars powered by fossil fuels.

    The institute estimated that roughly 340,000 tonnes of lithium oxide deposits were found in a test site of 7.2 square km, indicating that the amount in the entire area could exceed five million tonnes.

    "With society's expectations of longer lasting battery power for portable devices and the increase in electric vehicles, the demand for lithium has increased sharply," the China Daily quoted Wen Hanjie, a researcher involved in the discovery, as saying.

    'An urgent need'

    "But we also see a high dependence on lithium imports as about 80 percent of lithium used in China between 2011 and 2015 was from overseas ... To find our own lithium resources is an urgent need."

    The Chinese government has previously expressed concern about its overseas dependence on materials such as lithium, which it sees as key to the development of strategic emerging industries such as rechargeable battery production.

    Among the countries with the world's largest reserves of lithium is Bolivia, whose Uyani salt flats hold at least 21 million tonnes.

    SOURCE: Reuters news agency