Production of lithium in Phangnga province could begin in about two years, boosting the country’s ambitions to become a regional electric vehicle (EV) production hub, according to government and company officials involved.
The silvery-white element is a key metal for EV batteries and establishing lithium mines would put Thailand in a unique position compared to other major producers because it is also rapidly developing an EV production industry, spurred by $1.44 billion in investment commitments from Chinese carmakers.
The Australian mining company Pan Asia Metals is preparing to submit mining licence applications in March for the Reung Kiet project in Phangnga, where the Reung Kiet and Bang I Tum sites have been identified as promising.
The company is “optimistic” about starting lithium chemical production from Reung Kiet by early 2026, Pan Asia chairman and managing director Paul Lock told Reuters.
The Department of Primary Industries and Mines (DPIM) forecasts that the Reung Kiet site could produce about 164,500 tonnes of lithium carbonate, used in lithium iron phosphate batteries for EVs.
The Reung Kiet resource could translate into enough lithium for at least 1 million EV batteries of 50 kilowatt-hour capacity, DPIM director-general Aditad Vasinonta said, adding that mining could begin in the southern province adjacent to Phuket in about two years.
The mineral resources at Bang I Tum may be anywhere between 10% and 70% larger than Reung Kiet, according to Mr Lock of Pan Asia.
“The potential for growth through further exploration is significant,” he said. “This positions Thailand as an emerging player in the lithium market, aligning well with its ambitions to become a regional hub for electric vehicles.”
The potential timeline for mining at Reung Kiet and details of the Bang I Tum resource have not been previously reported.
The total lithium resources in Thailand, and the amount that could be viably mined, is still unclear. Australia, Argentina, Chile and China are among the world’s major lithium suppliers.
A government spokesperson caused a stir last week when she said that 14.8 million tonnes of lithium had been found in Phangnga. If confirmed, it would be “the third-largest reserves of the mineral in the world after Bolivia and Argentina”, she said.
However, other government departments and academic experts pointed out that the figure of 14.8 million tonnes represented the rocks that contain lithium, the concentration of which was believed to be around 0.45%.
The spokesperson on Saturday acknowledged the error, saying she had simply wanted to pass on some “good news” about the mineral discovery.
Starting lithium production coincides with Thailand’s push into higher EV output. Already Southeast Asia’s largest car producer and exporter, Thailand wants to convert about 30% of its annual vehicle production into EVs by 2030.
So far, 38 battery production projects, including for EVs and other uses, with a total investment of 23.6 billion baht, have received support from the Board of Investment, secretary-general Narit Therdsteerasukdi said.
“Our goal is to push Thailand to become the regional hub for battery production, both for EV and for energy storage,” he said.
The government is also pushing for lithium exploration in new areas, including revising regulations to enable private companies such as Matsa Resources, another Australian miner hunting for lithium in Thailand, to undertake studies on agricultural land, said Mr Aditad of the DPIM.
“We have been working on this, on revising regulations for quite some time. We plan to finish them by the end of next month,” he said.
Matsa holds two special prospecting licences in Thailand and has over 100 applications in the pipeline, it said in a January announcement.
“They will be only one of a handful of countries that have got the whole supply chain from mining to production within the same country,” said Paul Poli, the company’s executive chairman.
The lithium deposits under exploration in Thailand are found within what are known as lepidolite minerals, which differs from Australian mines that typically produce lithium from spodumene and Chilean projects that extract the metal from brine.
Matsa and Pan Asia said they are in discussions with Chinese firms to process the lepidolite mineral, which can be more expensive than the processing for spodumene and brine. Chinese firms have experience producing lithium from lepidolite in Jiangxi province.
“Our discussions with the Chinese lepidolite mining and processing company are focused on a potential tripartite venture to mine and produce lithium chemicals in Thailand,” said Mr Lock of Pan Asia.
Establishing a mine and a lithium conversion plant with annual capacity of 10,000 tonnes in Thailand would require an investment of about $180 million to $250 million, he said.
“This strategy aims to support Thai-based battery manufacturers by ensuring a local supply of essential materials,” he added.