The Alberto Fernández administration is determined to further develop Argentina’s lithium industry, in teamwork with the nation’s provincial governments and private investors, officials say.
Seeking to build investment investment and mining, the government this week relaunched the ‘Mesa Nacional del Litio’ roundtable, while Productive Development Minister Matías Kulfas made a virtual appearance at an event organised by the InterAmerican Development Bank and the Washington-based Wilson Center highlighting the potential of Argentina’s lithium production.
A growing and potentially pandemic-proof sector, there are currently 21 projects online with the capacity to extract 93 million tons at an annual rate of 350,000 tons. According to data from the Productive Development Ministry’s Mining Secretariat, Argentina has two lithium mines in operation, one in construction and 17 advanced projects with the 10 largest accounting for 86 percent of the resources identified so far.
Between 2017 and 2020 the accumulated investments in the lithium sector have totalled US$1.118 billion and employment has doubled in the last three years to register 1,474 direct jobs and almost 3,000 indirect by mid-2020.
The government considers that the local lithium investment projects could represent a relevant contribution to the northern provinces of Catamarca, Jujuy and Salta housing these resources, especially in the zones of the salt flats.
These carry an important weight in the export structure of these regions, especially in the case of Jujuy, and could increase appreciably in all three provinces when the projects currently underway come on stream. In this sense Argentina is pushing forward this strategic sector for the long-term growth of the economy and the development of an industry which promotes "the environmentally sustainable exploitation of this kind of mining," said Kulfas this week.
"We have to develop renewable energy as an industrial project. It must be sustainable and the way to make it sustainable is with national industry with national jobs while at the same time working with a federal agenda of green industrialisation," he declared.
Lithium, an exclusive protagonist of the current technological revolution on the basis of its utility for developing batteries for mobile gadgets such as cell phones, tablets and laptops, is also a key mineral for manufacturing cleaner, lighter and more efficient energy storage systems, thus giving a vital boost to hybrid and electric vehicles.
The Mesa Nacional del Litio panel, first formed by the national government and the provincial governments of Jujuy, Salta and Catamarca in March, 2019, met Tuesday with the aim of boosting the development and industrialisation. The three provinces were represented at the panel meeting by their governors – Gerardo Morales (Jujuy), Raúl Jalil (Catamarca) and Gustavo Sáenz (Salta) – while the national government was represented by the economist Silvina Batakis from the Interior Ministry alongside Kulfas, Industry Secretary Ariel Schale and Mining Secretary Alberto Hensel.
The following day, Kulfas participated in a virtual event co-sponsored by the Inter-American Development Bank on the initiative of the Wilson Center’s Lithium Triangle (a reference to the “ABC” triangle of lithium producers formed by Argentina, Bolivia and Chile).
During the event, Kulfas said that Argentina wanted to become a "technological producer for South America and other regions," adding that "fiscal and tax incentives" could be further developed to promote "investment."
The BMW auto giant has recently announced an investment of over US$300 million for the sustainable exploitation of deposits in Catamarca via the United States mining company Livent in order to produce batteries for their future electric cars, the spearhead for a series of future investments. On Thursday, Canadian company Portofino said a geochemical sampling programme at a site called Yergo, in Catamarca, had produced “high favourable” results.
To that should be added a memorandum of understanding signed by China’s Jiankang Automobile Company and the Productive Development Ministry early in March following a joint visit to Catamarca deposits.
"Argentina and China are strategic partners and this is part of the strategy of our government to totally integrate the value chain for lithium in Argentina, from the salt flats, passing through the batteries to the production of electric vehicles," affirmed minister Kulfas after the signature of the agreement,
"This project aims at linking up with national industry and the local networks of science and technology to generate more technological development and employment in the country," he highlighted as he talked up the challenge of industrialising raw materials.
Toyota’s local president Daniel Herrero has recently said that he expected every model produced by the Japanese company to be electric at some point between 2025 and 2030.
On this premise the Productive Development Ministry’s most ambitious objective is to be able to build a factory of lithium batteries for export throughout the region, hence the memorandum of understanding with Jiankang to have the necessary technology, investment and economies of scale. A plant to manufacture electric buses for sustainable mobility in the cities is also planned.
Jiankang (China’s third manufacturer and the fifth in the world) is already producing batteries on a massive scale with factories in Germany, the United States, Japan and Korea as well as China.
– TIMES with agencies