SANTIAGO/VANCOUVER (Reuters) – South America’s lithium triangle is the lowest-cost place to produce the vital battery ingredient, but political hurdles will require Japanese and South Korean companies to make big investments to crack into the region as they chase Chinese rivals who have tied up resources in other parts of the world.
Even China, the leader in the global race for the metal used in batteries for everything from smartphones to electric cars, has had its efforts thwarted in the lithium triangle of Bolivia, Chile and Argentina, home to around two thirds of global reserves.
Because of China’s problems, market experts say the lithium triangle is one place South Korean and Japanese auto and battery makers can play catch-up.
The race will go to whichever producers can best navigate policy obstacles in all three countries. But Panasonic, Samsung and other South Korean and Japanese companies focused on long-term supply contracts find themselves further behind the Chinese, who have been aggressively going after physical assets elsewhere, such as purchasing their own mines.
JOLTED OUT OF COMFORT ZONES
South Korean and Japanese firms have relied largely on South American lithium, and formed longstanding relationships with producers there.