Argentina’s lithium exports have surged 234% in 2022 when compared with year before reaching a 10-year high.

The government announced the increase on Tuesday as the country’s mining exports hit $3.86bn, according the economy ministry.

Demand for the metal, which is used in electric vehicles, battery and solar panel production has increased dramatically in the previous years. According to the International Lithium Association, demand is set to increase six-fold between 2021 and 2040, due to growing interest these technologies.

According to the World Bank the production of minerals associated with clean energy developments could increase by as much as 500% between 2020 and 2050.

Lithium accounted for nearly a fifth of all Argentinian mining shipments in 2022. Argentina, along with neighbours Chile and Bolivia make up the “lithium triangle”, and the region’s salt flats account for 75% of the world’s lithium supply.

Lithium is extracted from the salt flats using sunlight to concentrate the metal in evaporation pools.

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The lithium triangle’s dominance could, however, be challenged with both India and Iran recently announcing the discovery of large lithium deposits.

During January and February of last year lithium exports more than doubled, with shipments pulling in a record $58m, while revenues from lithium hit $6bn for the year.

Growing lithium demand

Argentina’s economy has recently suffered from triple digit inflation and historic droughts but lithium exports offered hope with demand showing no sign of slowing.

Lithium prices have been growing as demand increases. According to the World Economic Forum lithium prices increased 11-fold in the last year, earning the metal the name “white gold”.

However, Indigenous communities and academics have raised concerns about the impact of Argentina’s vast lithium mining growth on local people and the environment. Due to the arid landscapes in which lithium mining takes place it can have negative implications for water access and supply.

Aimee Boulanger, executive director for the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance, told the New York Times: “Our new clean-energy demands could be creating greater harm, even though its intention is to do good”.