BAMAKO, Nov 19 (Reuters) - Mali is on track to start lithium production by 2020 and companies have already discovered 694,000 tonnes of exploitable reserves, a senior mines ministry official told Reuters.
Lithium has become one of the world's most in-demand commodities thanks to the rising popularity of electric vehicles powered by lithium-ion batteries.
The Goulamina and Bougoni projects in Mali, owned by Australian mineral explorer Birimian and Britain's Kodal Minerals respectively, have discovered reserves of over 48 million tonnes of ore including 694,000 tonnes of lithium.
"The numbers could go up as the research continues," said Yaya Djire, geology department chief at Mali's mines ministry. "Birimian should start production within two years."
Before 2017, Mali had only issued two lithium mining exploration permits, but it has since granted about a dozen, and more are still awaiting authorisation.
"Since 2017, a dozen exploration permits have been delivered to companies, all located in the mining area of Bougouni (about 150 km south of Bamako) which is the main area of lithium deposits," Djire said.
Global lithium reserves stand at around 16 million tonnes and the majority of production is focused in Chile and Australia, according to U.S. Geological Survey data. (Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo; Writing by Juliette Jabkhiro; Editing by Alessandra Prentice and David Evans)