Lithium Americas produces first carbonate at Caucharí-Olaroz

The Caucharí-Olaroz project, located in Argentina’s Jujuy province.(Image courtesy of Lithium Americas.)

Canada’s Lithium Americas (TSX, NYSE: LAC) said it has produced its first lower than battery-quality lithium carbonate at the Caucharí-Olaroz project in Argentina’s Jujuy province.

The miner noted that additional purification processing equipment to achieve battery-quality lithium carbonate will be on site in the second half the year, as planned.

“The initial production achieved as part of commissioning is an exciting step as Caucharí-Olaroz continues to advance toward first production of battery-quality lithium carbonate,” chief executive Jonathan Evans said in the statement.

During the ramp-up stage to production capacity of 40,000 of battery-grade lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE), Lithium Americas expects Caucharí-Olaroz to operate below designed capacity, producing lithium carbonate under battery-quality specifications.

The Vancouver-based miner plans to increase capacity by 20,000 tonnes a year of LCE by the end of 2025. The expansion has already been approved by seven neighbouring communities, Lithium Americas said in its latest corporate presentation.

Caucharí-Olaroz is named after the two salt flats in northwest Argentina where the project is located. The $979 million project is owned by Lithium Americas (44.8%), China’s Gangfeng Lithium (46.7%) and local authority body JEMSE (8.5%) and is operated via local company Minera Exar.

Business split

The company announced a plan in November to split its Argentinean and North American units into two separate entities.

Shareholders will vote on the business reorganization, approved by the board in May, at an annual meeting on July 31.

If it goes ahead, the split would see the new Lithium Americas owning the Thacker Pass lithium project in Nevada and investments in Green Technology Metals (ASX: GT1) and Ascend Elements.

It would also distance Lithium Americas from one of its top shareholders, China’s Ganfeng Lithium, which in 2018 snatched SQM’s stake in Caucharí-Olaroz and took control of the project in 2020.

The other new company, Lithium Argentina, would focus on the assets in the South American country. They include a 65% stake in the Sal de la Puna lithium project, located in the Pastos Grandes basin of Salta, previously owned by Arena Minerals, which Lithium Americas bought in December last year. The acquisition closed in April.