Is Chile losing ground in the lithium space? – by Tom Azzopardi (Northern Miner – September 4, 2019)

Northern Miner

Chile should lead the world in lithium production. The Salar de Atacama in northern Chile is the world’s largest and richest lithium resource, containing almost half the world’s known reserves, according to the United States Geological Survey. And the region’s geological and climatic conditions make it the most competitive place to produce the mineral.

The country’s only two lithium producers, Albemarle (NYSE: ALB) and Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile (SQM) (NYSE: SQM), enjoy production costs of less than US$3,000 a tonne, compared to almost US$4,000 a tonne in some Argentinean salars.

So when lithium demand and prices began to take off earlier this decade, Chile’s economic development agency, Corporación de Fomento de la Producción (CORFO), which owns mineral rights on the Salar, signed new lease contracts with Albemarle and SQM allowing them to increase production to around two million tonnes over the life of the leases.

Last year, SQM expanded its capacity on the Salar de Atacama to produce lithium carbonate to 70,000 tonnes a year and plans to complete a second expansion to 120,000 tonnes a year by late 2021. A third expansion to reach 160,000 tonnes is pencilled in for 2023.

Albemarle plans to increase production from its own operations on the Salar to around 85,000 tonnes from 2020, up from 40,000 to 45,000 tonnes this year.

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