Home » Rio Tinto, Eramet Eye Lithium Tech Development in Chile

Rio Tinto, Eramet Eye Lithium Tech Development in Chile

Eramet and Rio Tinto Submit Plans for Chile’s Salares Altoandinos Project

by Ikeoluwa Ogungbangbe

Rio Tinto and Eramet, two mining giants, together with South Korea’s LG Energy, are leading an initiative to develop advanced lithium extraction technologies in Chile. This initiative is part of a broader response to a tender issued by Enami, a state-run mining company, which aims to utilize Chile’s untapped salt flats for lithium production. This announcement is part of Chile’s ambitious plans to enhance its status as a leading producer of the crucial battery metal amid soaring global demand.

In March, Enami started a tender process to identify & collaborate with companies that could offer innovative and environmentally sustainable methods for lithium extraction. This initiative targets the development of the “Salares Altoandinos” project, which covers approximately 100 square miles in the resource-rich Atacama region. Enami’s focus is on fostering technologies that minimize environmental impact, reflecting a growing industry trend towards more sustainable mining practices.

“Collaborating in the construction of a sustainable future is essential, particularly where the production of critical minerals like lithium plays a pivotal role in the energy transition,” Enami stated. The firm emphasized its commitment to testing and potentially implementing proposals from one or more of the 30 companies from 12 different countries that have entered bids.

Chile, led by President Gabriel Boric’s administration, is promoting a new model for public-private partnership to exploit its vast lithium reserves, which are among the largest in the world. This model assigns Enami and another entity to represent the state’s interests, with the goal of balancing economic growth with ecological and social sustainability.

Among the bidders, Rio Tinto stands out not only for its existing investments in lithium but also for its proactive approach to expanding its footprint in the lithium market. The company has already invested $350 million in its Rincon lithium project in Argentina, and it expects production to begin by the end of this year.

Similarly, French miner Eramet is making significant strides with its Centenario lithium project in Argentina, which is expected to produce approximately 30,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate equivalent annually after its initial phase. This phase aims to yield 24,000 tonnes and is scheduled to begin production in the second quarter of 2024. Eramet is also actively seeking further opportunities in northern Chile, having entered into farm-in agreements as it pursues exploration and mining rights.

Chile’s recent move to open more lithium-bearing salt flats to private investment underscores the government’s strategy to boost local lithium production by 70% within the next decade. This plan includes the development of three to four new projects by 2026, positioning Chile to capitalize on the projected surge in global lithium demand, which is expected to quadruple by 2030.

Despite the positive outlook, there is mounting pressure to bridge the gap between the demand and supply of lithium. According to current projections, there will be a shortfall with the expected supply reaching only 1.5 million tonnes by 2030, whereas the demand is expected to be 1.8 million tonnes. In 2023, exports of lithium carbonate accounted for 5.3% of Chile’s total shipments, which is a decrease from 8.4% in the previous year. This highlights the volatile and rapidly evolving nature of the global lithium market.

Leading global entities, such as Rio Tinto and Eramet, are making a concerted effort to develop advanced lithium extraction technologies in Chile. This not only showcases the strategic importance of the country in the lithium market but also emphasizes the increasing emphasis on sustainable mining practices as the world shifts towards renewable energy sources.


You may also like

Leave a Comment

The African Miner is the vanguard of the mining industry, delivering world-class insight and news.

Latest Stories

© 2024 The African Miner. All Rights Reserved.