Lithium investors are looking beyond price plunge, Chile minister says

Chile’s Mining Minister Aurora Williams. (Image courtesy of Chile’s government)

Lithium companies are looking beyond a recent price plunge, maintaining their interest in new projects to be offered in Chile, according to the country’s top mining official.

“From the contacts we’ve had — visits, lobbies — we see that the interest remains,” Mining Minister Aurora Williams told reporters Wednesday. “Beyond prices, the challenges the world faces in terms of energy transition and climate change are still pending.”

Prospective investors in the country with the largest lithium reserves appear to be taking a long term view, betting the market will tighten again in the shift away from fossil fuels. Prices of lithium — a key component in electric-vehicle batteries — have lost more than 40% since President Gabriel Boric announced in April a new public-private model to attract capital while keeping the best deposits under the control of state-owned Codelco.

Last month, executives from London-based Rio Tinto Group and China’s Tsingshan Holding Group Co. held separate lithium discussions with Chilean authorities, according to lobby disclosures. Tianqi Lithium Corp. and France’s Eramet SA are also on a list of firms to show interest in the model.

Interested parties are keen to know which salt flats will be offered for exploration and which areas will be protected. In areas deemed strategically important, private-sector partners will be offered a minority stake, while in areas of lesser importance they may have control.

Those questions are expected to be answered by the end of next month, with contracts defined by the end of June, said Williams. She spoke ahead of a trip to attend the PDAC mining convention in Toronto early next month, where authorities will hold meetings with prospective investors.

Lithium and copper will be topics of conversations during Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s trip to Chile later this week as the US looks to build out EV supply chains domestically and with its free trade partners.

The South American nation is the biggest supplier of lithium after Australia and the world’s biggest copper supplier. In lithium, it’s been losing market share as output remains restricted to two operations on a single giant salt flat.

(By James Attwood)


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