Lithium supply in Argentina

Lithium Today.- Argentina produces around 5700 MT of Lithium (30,341 MT of LCE) (newest estimations for 2017 40,000 MT of LCE) between 10-15% (newest estimations 16%) of world output and is a part of Lithium Triangle along with Bolivia and Chile where 70% of world’s Lithium reserves are placed. 10-15% of these reserves are located on Argentinian soil in provinces of Jujuy, Salta and Catamarca.

Export of Lithium Carbonate in 2016 brought USD 191,1 million to Argentina.

There are currently 2 working mines in the country:  Salar de Hombre Muerto (Atacama Plateau, “FMC Minera del Altiplano Catamarca”) and Salar de Olaroz (Jujuy Province, “Olaroz de Sales de Jujuy S.A.).  In both mines lithium is extracted from brines.

Mine at Salar de Hombre Muerto((Catamarca) is operated by FMC. Lithium provides a small but growing part of FMC’s revenues, with sales of around $250 million for 2016 (estimations of total production for 2017 are at a level of 22,500 MT LCE). By 2017, the report states FMC’s hydroxide production capacity will increase from 10,000 metric tons per year to 18,000 metric tons.

“The Salar del Hombre Muerto is located in the high Andes at about 13,200 feet above sea level, about 850 miles northwest of Buenos Aires. The location is convenient to major rail lines and seaports. Covering a smaller area than most salars of the region, it contains lithium brines at depths much greater than its neighbours. Lithium reserves are sufficient to meet the increasing demands of the foreseeable future”.

Orocobre (recognized lithium miner from Australia), Toyota and Jemse (national Argentinian mining and energy company) operates Salar de Olaroz (Jujuy Province) facility as joint-venture with expected output of 17,500 MT in 2017.  Orocobre brings the extraction know-how, Toyota helps to secure a demand in Asian market where battery manufacturing growth is the strongest and Jemse (Jujuy Energia y Mineria Sociedad del Estado) participation helps to secure regional and national interests. In 2016 mine produced 11,845 tonnes of lithium carbonate, about 6% of the world’s output. Salar de Olaroz is located 350 km from capital of Jujuy province, 3940 metres above sea level.

Salar de Olaroz can operate at competitive costs due to its production process made possible by unique climate full of sun and wind, with very little rain. The brine extraction process takes place in 17 lakes. Brine is moved from lake to lake with Lithium concentration in the brine becoming higher with each move. Lakes are over 200 metres deep.

Orocobre’s Lithium Carbonate is transported by trucks to closest port Antofagasta or to the further located port of Buenos Aires for shipments worldwide.

Lithium production in Argentina experienced large increase by almost 60% between 2015 and 2016 After President Mauricio Macri removed currency and capital controls and taxes introduced by his predecessors, over 20 foreign companies began to consider opportunities in Argentina’s Lithium mining industry. Lithium production in Argentina has a potential to triple until 2019.

Currently 6 mines are under feasibility stage and 25 at stage of establishing the size of reserves. Forecasted investments are at the level of USD 1800 million. Yet it will take 3-4 years (counting from 2017) for any of these projects to turn into production phase.

Most notable projects in different stages of advancement are:

Lithium Americas & SQM & Ganfeng Lithium – Cauchari-Olaroz lithium project in Jujuy province – 25,000 MT of LCE per annum (around 85% of current total Argentinian production), operational from mid-2019.

“Lithium Americas Corp. (OTCQX: LACDF), together with SQM, is developing the Cauchari-Olaroz lithium project, located in Jujuy, Argentina, through its 50% interest in Minera Exar. On Thursday, June 29, 2017, senior executives from Minera Exar, Lithium Americas and SQM attended a meeting in Buenos Aires with government officials from Argentina, including the President of Argentina, Mauricio Macri, and the Governor of the Province of Jujuy, Gerardo Morales. All parties reaffirmed

their commitment to support the development of Cauchari-Olaroz.”. “Minera Exar is proceeding with the development of the project and progressing with the early construction activities following a timeline target of being in production by 2019,” – Lithium Americas president of South American operations Gabriel Rubacha stated. Construction of the first stage of 25 000 t/y of lithium carbonate production capacity is expected to be completed in 2019.

Orocobre plans to increase the production from Salar de Olaroz to 35,000 MT by end of 2018

Galaxy Resource in Minera Sal de Vida – 25,000 MT of LCE per annum

One of the world’s largest and highest-quality undeveloped lithium brine projects.

According to its updated definitive feasibility study, the project has a total capital cost of US$376 million and would produce 25,000t of battery-grade lithium carbonate annually over 40 years

Eramet in Salar de Centenario-Ratones – 20,000 MT of LCE per annum

“In 2016, the teams confirmed that the site holds over 7 million tons of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE), as well as enough industrial water to run correctly.

In December, ERAMET Research conducted a pre-industrial pilot programme on the upstream part of the process for extracting lithium from the Argentinean deposit.

In parallel, the prefeasibility study was carried out by ERAMET Ingénierie and an Argentinean firm. Following tests to check the industrial process was repeatable, the project is set to enter its final development phase, the feasibility study, prior to industrialisation.

On the regulatory front, in late 2016 the Group applied to local authorities for an environmental permit.

2017 will be given over to semi-industrial pilot tests, detailed engineering studies and technical-economic appraisals on a possible industrial facility”.  Production estimation: 20 000 MT LCE for next decades.

Enirgi Group Corporation & ADY Resources – 50,000 of LCE per annum

“Enirgi Group Corporation (“Enirgi Group”) announced that following initial commissioning of its commercial scale demonstration lithium carbonate processing plant (the “DXP Plant”) at its flagship lithium project, the Salar del Rincón in Salta, Argentina (the “Enirgi Lithium Project”), the DXP Plant is now producing Lithium Carbonate (Li2CO3) on a daily basis. The final stages of commissioning are going to plan and the DXP Plant is currently ramping up to full design.

Highlights of the DXP Plant’s first production:

The DXP Plant is designed to produce battery grade lithium carbonate directly from raw, unconcentrated brine;

The DXP Plant was operated using Enirgi Group’s proprietary lithium extraction technology (“DXP Technology”), developed in-house by Enirgi Group’s Innovation Division in cooperation with the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (“ANSTO”);

Product was produced directly from raw, unconcentrated brine from the Salar del Rincón (no solar evaporation);

Lithium Carbonate product was produced in less than 24 hours;”

Lithium giant Albermarle  is also physically present in Argentina and investigating possibilities for a project in Salar de Antofalla, since 2016.

Argentina has an ambition to move up the value chain and establish battery manufacturing sector within the country.  Y-TEC together with Italian partner FIB-FAAM and Jemse plan to build Lithium battery plant in Argentina (USD 60 million investment) in operation most likely in 2018. Yet it will process only 69 MT of LCE per year.