Chile’s Codelco seeks approvals to explore for lithium at Maricunga (Reuters U.S. – January 24, 2020)

SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Chile state miner Codelco filed with regulators on Friday a plan to begin exploration for lithium in its Maricunga salt flat holdings, a key step in advancing development of the country’s second richest deposit of the metal needed for batteries.

The proposal, if approved, would allow Codelco, the world’s top producer of copper, to pinpoint concentrations of lithium on the flat, estimate the size of the resource and identify necessary next steps. The state-owned miner hopes to explore for as many as 10 months, the company said in a statement.

Codelco has for years talked of getting into the lithium business. But the cash-strapped miner has repeatedly delayed plans to develop its reserves to concentrate on copper, its primary business.

Demand for lithium is widely expected to skyrocket by 2025, but short-term oversupply has recently prompted several miners to delay major projects.

Chile possesses the world’s largest reserves of lithium, a key ingredient in batteries for electric vehicles. But the nation’s output has barely budged in recent years, as bureaucratic and environmental hurtles have long stymied development outside of the Atacama flat.

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