France’s Eramet gives go-ahead to lithium project in Argentina

Centenario salt lake. Image by Eramet

Eramet has approved the development of a lithium mine in Argentina as the French group pursues a shift towards minerals used to power electric vehicles to meet burgeoning demand.

The miner expects to invest 525 million euros ($597 million) in the Centenario deposit with the aim of producing 24,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate equivalent per year in a first phase that could start at the end of 2021, it said on Monday.

The Centenario lithium deposit contains drainable resources of nearly 10 million tonnes of lithium carbonate equivalent

The estimates were in line with previous guidance given by the company earlier this year.

A final investment decision would be made at the earliest in the fourth quarter of this year once financing has been obtained, it said in a statement.

Eramet shares were up 2% by 0834 GMT, one of the top performers on Paris’ SBF-120 equity index.

The Centenario lithium deposit contains drainable resources of nearly 10 million tonnes of lithium carbonate equivalent and the expected production costs for Eramet would be among the most competitive in the sector, added Eramet.

The investment comes as European authorities and companies are trying to develop large-scale production of electric vehicle batteries.

Eramet has said it has been approached by potential partners but has not committed to any of the battery alliances formed by European firms.

Chairman and Chief Executive Christel Boris made electric vehicle minerals a priority when she took up her post last year, shifting its focus away from the steel industry that absorbs most of Eramet’s historical nickel and manganese output.

The French miner is also studying the possibility of creating battery minerals at a nickel deposit it is developing in Indonesia with Chinese steel maker Tsingshan.

As part of plans to reinforce its manganese operations in Gabon, Eramet also announced on Monday a plan to expand annual manganese ore output to 7 million tonnes by 2023 compared with 4.3 million last year.

The investment was expected to cost 640 million euros, in keeping with a previous projection of around 600 million, and like for lithium, a final decision could come in the fourth quarter.

The production increase would reduce its manganese cash cost by around 20% and raise its share of the seaborne market for manganese ore to 15% from 10%, Eramet said.

The group estimates its manganese mining operation in Gabon is already one of the most cost-efficient in the world, in contrast to its nickel production in New Caledonia where it has been struggling with recurring losses.

($1 = 0.8790 euros)

(By Gus Trompiz; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

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