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The planet's second-largest lithium reserve revealed: a Cold War is breaking out over the Milei lithium 'gold rush' in Argentina's Lithium Triangle, which threatens China's dominance over critical minerals

Written by Flavia Marinho
Published 24/05/2024 às 05:05
lithium - mining - reserves - ore - deposits - rare earths - mineral - metals - industry - technology - battery - electric cars - china - argentina - lithium triangle
Lithium/ DALLE

Revolution in mining: capable of producing 75 thousand tons of lithium annually, it is in the desert of Argentina, the heart of mining and millions of batteries for electric cars in the world

A revolution in Latin American mining: From July, production will begin in the colossal reserve of 'white gold', the essential ore for most of the world's electronic devices. When I mention Centenario Ratones, chances are you don't know what I'm talking about. However, this salt flat located in a desert region of the province of Jujuy, Argentina, is about to extract lithium in industrial quantities never seen anywhere in the world.

To give you an idea, expectations are so high that reserves are expected to cover 15% of European lithium needs, especially in the electric car battery market.

Lithium, the treasure of Puna Argentina

'Centenario Ratones': The Largest Lithium Deposit

Currently, the concession to operate this deposit is from French Aramet, which develops an innovative mining method to obtain lithium in a few days, using a solid asset to extract and concentrate the mineral.

The pilot plant, which began in 2020, achieved a direct extraction yield of 90% lithium carbonate, the most efficient in the industry. Production will begin in July, with reserves estimated to last 40 years, which is equivalent to 24.000 tons of lithium carbonate annually.

'White gold' in the Argentine desert promises to cover 15% of Europe's needs and revolutionize mining in the world

In 2021, Aramet teamed up with Chinese steel group Tsingsham to start the production plant. The factory's first industrial units began operating in November 2023. The second phase projects a total annual production capacity of 75.000 tons, in two stages of development, with an investment of 1 billion dollars.

As mentioned, production will begin in July, with the aim of exporting before the end of 2024, with an initial projection of 74 million dollars per year, increasing to 300 million in 2026. If everything goes according to plan, the intention is to cover 15% of Europe's needs and expand the project to include renewable energy, mainly solar, along with an electrical supply plant.

Dependence of the automotive and technology industry on modern society makes lithium the world's new 'white gold'

Known as “South American lithium”, this metal is extracted from salt flats (salmuera), a decantation process that, despite being complex, is up to four times more economical than extracting lithium from hard rocks (as in Australia, Canada or Portugal). The exploration of this metal should have a significant impact on the local and national economy, being a strategic resource with growing demand in the global market. Currently, the project generates more than 1.500 jobs, with almost 80% of the workers being Salteños.

Lithium is essential for the useful life of cell phones, computers and hybrid and electric vehicles. The reliance on a wide range of devices and technologies in modern society makes lithium ore a valuable and strategic resource. However, from an environmental point of view, it also presents challenges, such as waste management and the sustainable use of resources.

Desert in Argentina is home to 20% of global reserves of this mineral essential for the manufacture of batteries for electric cars and electronic devices

Although Argentina is the second country in lithium ore reserves (housing 20% ​​of global reserves), its industry is still not up to par with this wealth. The lack of infrastructure in the northwest of the country is a weak point, and national companies are calling for adjustments to the government's austerity policy.

The drop in lithium prices on the market also affects the expansion of projects under development.

Argentina faces another challenge with China: China and the West dispute control of more than 60% of the world's lithium reserves

Argentina faces another challenge from China, especially in the border regions of the Andes Lithium Triangle, where China and the West compete for control of more than 60% of the world's lithium ore reserves. Chinese companies entered early and strongly during the Peronist administration. Ganfeng Lithium invested US$960 million in 24.000 hectares of salt flats, many still unexplored, at the height of the lithium bubble in 2022. Today, Ganfeng has five operations in different stages of development in Argentina.

I'd love to know if you've heard of lithium the new 'white gold. Tell us in the comments section if you are a professional in mining, steel or similar. Don't forget to activate CPG notifications to keep up with all the news from Brazil and the world. To the next!

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Flavia Marinho

Flavia Marinho is a Production Engineer with a postgraduate degree in Electrical and Automation Engineering, with extensive experience in the onshore and offshore shipbuilding industry. In recent years, she has dedicated herself to writing articles for news websites in the areas of industry, oil and gas, energy, shipbuilding, geopolitics, jobs and courses, with more than 7 thousand articles published. Contact us to suggest an agenda, advertise job vacancies or advertise on our portal.

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