Chilean state-owned copper companies Codelco and Enami are holding talks with private-sector firms to develop lithium deposits in a country that holds the world’s biggest reserves of the battery metal.
Top copper supplier Codelco and Enami, which provides services to small- and mid-sized producers, will represent the state in new lithium projects given it will take “some years” to set up a separate national lithium company, Mining Minister Marcela Hernando said in an interview.
The administration of left-leaning President Gabriel Boric expects to deliver this week its long-awaited lithium development strategy, in which companies will partner with the state in new projects. It also plans to present a bill to Congress this week to establish the state lithium company. But until that happens, the new joint-venture model will begin via Codelco and Enami.
“Each company has had conversations and some confidentially agreements have been signed,” Hernando said on Monday from the sidelines of an industry conference in Santiago.
Negotiations are separate to Codelco’s lithium exploration at the Maricunga salt flat, she said, adding that some of the prospective projects have already been the subject of exploration.
Chile is trying to attract private capital to the industry, at the same time as maximizing tax revenue, defending the environment and expanding downstream operations. Output is currently restricted to two companies — SQM and Albemarle Corp. — from a single, though giant, salt flat. The nation is losing market share just as demand for the key ingredient in electric-vehicle batteries accelerates.
(By James Attwood)