Fifteen million tonnes or less than 70,000 tonnes? That’s how much lithium there is in Thailand, depending on which figures one wants to believe.
A government spokesperson caused a stir this week when she mentioned Thailand in the same breath as Bolivia and Argentina — two global heavyweights when it comes to the highly sought-after mineral used in electric-vehicle batteries.
Rudklao Suwankiri on Thursday cited figures from the Department of Primary Industries and Mines, which said deposits containing more than 14.8 million tonnes of lithium had been found, most of it in the southern province of Phangnga.
The discovery “has made the country the third largest reserve of the mineral in the world after Bolivia and Argentina”, she said on the government website.
Her declaration came about a week after Chulalongkorn University geologist Alongkok Fanka detailed the discovery at two sites in Takua Thung district in Phangnga.
Their average lithium content was about 0.4%, considered better than counterparts in other parts of the world, said the academic from the university’s faculty of science.
But Jessada Denduangboripant, another lecturer with the same faculty, used his Facebook page to offer a reality check.
The 14.8 million tonnes, he wrote, represents the pegmatite igneous rocks that contains around 0.45% of lithium. In other words, not a huge amount of lithium could be extracted from the rocks.
“From a rough calculation, it would be around only 60,000 to 70,000 tonnes,” Mr Jessada wrote.
The lecturer said he welcomed clarifications if his observation was incorrect. “If I have miscalculated or misunderstood anything, please explain it,” he added.
The Department of Primary Industries and Mines has granted special licences to explore for lithium in three areas in Takua Thung district of Phangnga. Two of them are in Ruang Kiet and Bang E-Thum. The former was part of a major tin mining region up until the mid-1980s.
Two Australian companies — Pan Asia Metals and Matsa Resources — are active in the area. They have detailed their preliminary findings on their websites, though commercial exploration, extraction and processing might take quite some time to materialise.
Having viable lithium deposits would be highly beneficial to Thailand, which is rapidly becoming a production base for electric vehicles and would like to have a complete supply chain to further strengthen the country’s appeal to automotive investors.