Thanks to the huge reserves in the southern cone, Latin America emerges as world power in strategic lithium industrySo-called “white gold”, in addition to its use in the nuclear industry, is essential in the manufacture of batteries for electric vehicles and various electronic devices.
With 56% of the world’s reserves concentrated in Chile, Argentina and Bolivia, the region is emerging as a market leader with a significant increase in the price of ore in the past year, rising to over $9,000 a tonne. . $75,000.
Although interest in its exploitation is common, there are differences with respect to the extraction model. Bolivia and Mexico Treat lithium as a mineral of public utility that should be exploited by the state, while Chile and Argentina allow private sector participation. And all this, in parallel with the recent creation of the Latin American Lithium Chamber, which seeks to strengthen market transparency.
The body, set up in Buenos Aires this week, already has representatives from Argentina, Chile and Peru, and aims to expand its presence to Bolivia, Mexico and Brazil.
And in this line of progress, last month the President of Mexico, Andres Manuel López Obrador, proposed a summit of producing countries to share experiences on the lithium market.
The initiative began soon after his government implemented a reform of the mining law, which considers lithium a mineral of public utility whose exploitation is the exclusive power of the state, a model similar to that of Bolivia.
The president of the Latin American Chamber of Lithium, Argentine Pablo Rutigliano, tells Efe that the body has been created “to develop a process for setting and promoting prices”. Development of Lithium Market,
Mining multinationals and some governments, this expert points out, do not consider lithium to be a “commodity”, but instead establish a “minimum reference price” that prevents the market from setting prices independently.
Regional production is led by Bolivia, Chile and Argentina, the so-called “lithium triangle”, which according to the United States Geological Survey concentrates 55.9% of world resources.
If Mexico, Peru and Brazil are added, Latin America accounts for 59.3% of global resources, equivalent to 52.8 million tonnes. Meanwhile, the region’s reserves represent 52.2% of the world’s.
Argentina, with about 40 projects
Argentina, the fourth world producer (after Australia, Chile and China) and third in reserves (behind Chile and Australia), has 38 lithium projects, of which two are in production, six are under construction, two are in feasibility, three in the past. Feasibility, five in the initial economic evaluation and twenty in the advanced exploration stage.
Argentina’s national director of Mining Promotion and Economy, Jorge González, tells Efe that the government has taken various steps “to boost investment”, including two decrees in 2021 that called for “foreign debt to honor debt”. Instilled confidence in investors about access to currency “commitments”.
Currently, American, Australian, Canadian, Chinese, South Korean, Japanese and Argentine capital companies operate in Argentine lithium mining.
“Each country’s legal framework and development features are very different (…) The initial kick for bilateral and regional cooperation in lithium will be rather techno-scientific, allowing each of the interested parties to proceed in the policies that it will pursue. is designing”, gives the Argentine representative the idea of whether the exploitation should be state or private.
“Having no definition of nationalization, nationalization or declaring lithium a strategic resource, Argentina today has an investment flow of $4,500 to $5,000 million in a project portfolio that other countries do not have,” he told Efe de President. highlighted in the statements made to Argentine Chamber of Mining Entrepreneurs, Franco Migno.
Chile thinking of nationalization
In Chile, which accounts for 30% of world production, it has been the private investment of Chilean SQM and the American Albemarle who has been in charge of extracting this mineral. However, the idea of nationalizing its exploitation is gaining more and more strength, physicist Marcos Flores of the University of Chile told Efe.
The convention that drafted the new constitution gave the green light to an article stipulating that “the state has complete and exclusive control over all mines in the country”, while Gabriel Boric’s government favored the creation of a state company that would that manages this ore.
regardless of private or public governance ExploitationFlores considers it necessary for the state to foster a new approach to economic development beyond extraction.
Lithium production in Bolivia, a country with more than 21 million tonnes of the mineral, is passing through a phase in which the government is seeking the application of new technologies for direct extraction of the mineral through a model that replaces evaporation pools. A process that can last up to eleven months.
Meanwhile, exploitation in Brazil, concentrated in the state of Minas Gerais, is carried out by small and medium-sized companies. The oldest company to play a significant role in this industry is the Brazilian Lithium Company, which exploits the Cachoira deposits and has a production capacity of 30,000 tonnes per year.
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For its part, in Peru, Macusani Yellowcake, a Canadian company Plateau Energy Metals, has postponed the start of lithium exploitation in a deposit in the Puno field until 2023, where it is projected that production will reach 60,000 tonnes during the first three years. Will go years.
Lithium reserves in Puno are estimated at 2.5 million tonnes, but the mineral is associated with uranium, making it difficult to exploit, as it must be carefully extracted to avoid environmental pollution.
World sees lithium as “white gold” with large reserves in Latin America