Argentina expects $4.2bn investment in its lithium sector

Construction at Caucharí-Olaroz lithium project, one of the two producing mines in Argentina. (Image courtesy of Lithium Americas Corp.)

Argentina expects to receive a $4.2 billion combined investment in its growing lithium market over the next five years, which would help the country double production in 2023 to reach 175,000 tonnes of the battery metal in 2025.

The country has attracted over the past year major players, including the world’s second largest miner Rio Tinto and South Korean steelmaker Posco.

Argentina sits atop the “lithium triangle” a region shared with neighbouring Chile and Bolivia, which contains nearly 56% of the world’s resources of the metal, according to the most recent figures from the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

This means, according to productive development minister Matías Kulfas, the country has the potential to become the world’s third or fourth biggest lithium producer.

Kulfas, who participated in a round-table to discuss the sector’s potential last week, said the projected investment will be key to build the necessary infrastructure and improve efficiencies.

The minister also highlighted the need for sound policies that help spur investment in the industry without neglecting the environment.

Argentina produced 33,000 tonnes of lithium in 2020 and projects it will reach 50,000 tonnes of the battery metal this year.

Eyes on the prize

Argentina’s northern provinces are emerging as a hub for greenfield lithium projects, attracting majors and juniors alike.

The nation’s lithium portfolio includes 23 projects in various stages of development, including Ganfeng Lithium and Lithium Americas’ under construction Caucharí-Olaroz. The project is expected to become Argentina’s top producer with 40,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE) a year, starting in second half of 2022.

Australia’s Orocobre and US miner Livent Corp, which have supply tie-ups with Toyota Corp and BMW respectively, operate the two producing lithium mines in the country.

Argentina expects $4.2bn investment in its lithium sector
* Figures in metric tonnes. ( Source: Reuters, with data from CAEM.)

Rio Tinto completed in March the acquisition of the Rincon lithium project in Salta, which holds reserves of almost 2 million tonnes of contained lithium carbonate equivalent, sufficient for a 40-year mine life.

Posco vowed to invest $4 billion in a project at a salt flat called Salar del Hombre Muerto, located on the border between the Salta and Catamarca provinces.

Australia’s Lake Resources (ASX: LKE) is also present in the area, with its flagship Kachi lithium project. The asset, which is expected to initially produce 50,000 tonnes per annum from 2024, recently secured Ford as a client.

The automaker aims to buy 25,000 tonnes annually of the white metal and represents a major bet on direct lithium extraction (DLE), a technology that filters lithium from brines and uses far less acreage than open pit mines and evaporation ponds.