A vast deposit of one of the most highly coveted metals on Earth could potentially be located in the region around Mount Everest, according to Chinese scientists. The researchers’ discovery of lithium near the world’s tallest mountain comes as global demand for the metal has been skyrocketing, sending prices to record levels and further fuelling geopolitical competition for strategic resources. The ore deposit may contain as much as 1.0125 million tonnes of lithium oxide, according to the group of scientists from the Institute of Geology and Geophysics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). The spot price of lithium metal in the Chinese market soared to more than 2 million yuan (US$316,000) per tonne earlier this month – more than four times the price a year ago. But it is not yet known how much the new Himalayan deposit – dubbed Qiongjiagang, after the nearest peak – could be worth. Lithium is the new oil – and China’s heavy demand for it is creating tension It may also be the country’s third-largest lithium deposit after one at the Bailong Mountain site in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, and the Jiajika deposit in Sichuan province, according to a report by China Science Daily , a newspaper backed by the CAS. The content rate of lithium oxide in the newly discovered deposit is also high enough to be of “industrial value”, according to the report. “The Qiongjiagang lithium pegmatite deposit has good conditions for mining,” Qin Kezhang, the head of the research team, was quoted as saying. He pointed to the shallowness of the deposit and the quality of the ore, in noting that it would be relatively easy to mine and extract. He also said it is also in a favourable location, geographically – far from the heart of the Qomolangma nature preserve and still accessible. Qomolangma is the Tibetan name for Everest. However, Qin said, exploitation of the lithium deposit is a long way off, as it is still in the initial “pre-study” phase. As major economies are all aiming to shift to electric cars in the global fight against climate change , the silvery-white metal has been increasingly considered “the new oil” or “white gold”, as it is an essential component in electric vehicle (EV) batteries. According to an estimation from the International Energy Agency, global demand for lithium would grow by more than 4,000 per cent by 2040 if the world achieves its climate goals. Currently, 85 per cent of lithium comes from Latin America and Australia, according to market intelligence provider IHS Markit. The two regions are home to 64 per cent of the world’s known lithium, according to the 2022 Mineral Commodity Summary from the United States Geological Survey. China vows ‘zero tolerance’ for speculators as commodity prices boom The newly discovered deposit is said to be a type of lithium-bearing rock called spodumene – the same as that from Australia – while deposits in Latin America are found in brine lakes spanning the borders of Bolivia, Argentina and Chile – known as the Lithium Triangle. As the world’s biggest EV market, Chinese companies refine two-thirds of the world’s lithium and dominate the global battery production. That dominance has triggered concerns among the United States and its allies, which have vowed to reduce their supply-chain dependence on China. Meanwhile, three quarters of the mineral supply in China relies on imports. More than 96 per cent of spodumene exports from Australia go to China, IHS Markit’s data showed, while more and more Chinese companies are venturing into Latin America for mining projects.