High risk/high reward. That’s the bet being made by global lithium miners in Argentina who are brushing aside a recession, a currency crisis and political uncertainty in their hunger for the mineral that helps power electric cars.
Rising demand and limited supply have resulted in lithium prices tripling over four years. In response, companies have been scrambling to build new mines, putting Argentina and Chile, two of the world’s largest producers of the mineral, squarely in their sights.
But while Chile may be more economically stable, top producers there — Albemarle Corp. and Soc. Quimica y Minera de Chile SA — have struggled to obtain licenses to expand. Meanwhile, Argentina President Mauricio Macri is pushing a more pro-market agenda.
“Looking at the recent experience of SQM and Albemarle, I’d much rather do business in Argentina than in Chile,” said John Kanellitsas, executive vice chairman of Canada-based Lithium Americas Corp., which is undertaking a nearly $500-million joint project with China-based Jiangxi Ganfeng Lithium Co. Ltd. in Argentina’s Jujuy province.
“In Argentina a little patience is required over the long term,” Kanellitsas said in an interview. “But we think the situation will be resolved favorably.” The country is in the early stages of a lithium boom, according to an Economist Intelligence Unit report.
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