Argentina’s government has confirmed a US$1.7-billion investment in lithium production as the country looks to consolidate its position as a key global supplier of the metal.
In a statement issued midweek, the Economy Ministry said that Chinese firm Tibet Summit Resources had agreed to step up production at two sites in Salta Province and construct a lithium processing plant in the region.
The investment in the Salar Arizaro and Salar de Diablillos projects could produce between 50,000 and 100,000 tonnes of lithium and generate up to 10,000 direct and indirect jobs, said the Economy Ministry. The statement did not provide details as to when those levels would be reached.
“We want a mining industry that takes advantage of our resources and generates added value and employment,” said Economy Minister Sergio Massa.
The announcement came after Massa met with representatives from the firm during this week’s visit to China.
Argentina is currently the world’s fourth-largest producer of lithium, a key ingredient in rechargeable batteries for electric vehicles. Last year the country exported more than 40,000 tons of lithium carbonate.
President Alberto Fernández’s government wants to step up mining production to capitalise on surging demand for the metal, with some experts forecasting that exports could triple in the next few years.
Local production is expected to surge when two projects come online in the near future – one operated by US-based conglomerate Livent Corp in Catamarca Province and the other by Australia’s Allkem. The two companies expect to double their current output to about 42,500 tonnes of lithium carbonate each in the next few years, government data show.
Massa also met with officials from Ganfeng Lithium, the world’s leading producer of lithium and lithium derivatives, while in China. The firm is engaged in four projects in Argentina and expects to invest more than US$2.7 billion in the coming years and produce 74,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate.
Talks centred on options for the Sala de Llullaiaco site (also in Salta Province) and the Caucharí-Olaroz project, which will start operating and exporting in the third quarter of 2023, was also discussed. The latter is overseen by local firm Exar, which is run by Canada’s Lithium Americas Corp, China’s Ganfeng Lithium and state producer JEMSE.