Codelco secures first lithium asset with Australian firm buy

The Maricunga lithium project sits on its namesake salt flat, Chile’s second-largest in terms of reserves. (Image courtesy of Lithium Power International.)

Chilean state-owned copper miner Codelco, the world’s largest copper producer, has secured it first lithium asset in the home country after Australia’s Lithium Power International (ASX: LPI) shareholders approved the firm’s takeover.

The A$385 million ($254 million) acquisition of the Sydney-based miner hands Codelco the Maricunga lithium project, located on the namesake salt flat, which is Chile’s second largest salt-encrusted field in terms of reserves of the battery metal.

The Maricunga project, located within the so-called lithium triangle in northern Chile, is estimated to contain about 1.9 million tonnes of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE). 

The transaction, which now only needs the Federal Court of Australia’s backing, is expected to conclude on Feb. 23, Codelco said.

“With this purchase, Codelco moves forward with its mandate of becoming leaders in the production of critical minerals for the energy transition,” chairman Máximo Pacheco said in the statement.

Chile gave the copper giant a key role in the new public-private model for the sector, announced in April last year, which calls for public-private partnerships for future lithium projects.

The seamless nature of this deal contrasts with a recent string of failed Australian lithium juniors acquisitions. Local mining billionaires gatecrashed a series of deals in the latter half of 2023, including Albemarle’s (NYSE: ALB) A$6.6 billion attempt to buy Liontown Resources (ASX: LTR) and SQM’s bid for Azure Minerals (ASX: AZS).

Chile is already the world’s no. 2 producer of lithium after Australia and holds the world’s largest known deposits of the coveted battery metal.

Codelco entered in late December the first lithium business tie-up with SQM for the future development and production of the metal in the Atacama salt flat, the only area where lithium is currently extracted in Chile.