Argentina could help the world by becoming a big lithium exporter (The Economist – November 15, 2022)

But can exports of the metal help sort out the country’s economic woes?

Picture a country in South America that is pro-business, is attractive to foreign capital and offers political stability for long-term investment. Most people would think of Chile. But when it comes to mining lithium, a light, salt-like metal used for batteries in electric vehicles and mobile phones, the country in question is its dysfunctional neighbour, Argentina.

Better known for triple-digit inflation and railing against the International Monetary Fund, Argentine officials have gone on a charm offensive to Washington, DC and London with a boosterish message: the mining sector is open for business.

The transition to green energy has made lithium one of the world’s most sought-after metals. The price of lithium carbonate (lce), the raw material used in lithium-ion batteries, soared this year from a five-year average of around $14,000 per tonne to over $80,000.

According to Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, a consultancy, as sales of electric vehicles grow, demand for lce is set to increase to 2.4m tonnes in 2030, compared with around 600,000 tonnes this year. Yet supply is struggling to keep up. Worldwide there are just ten mines in operation that can produce battery-grade lithium, says Daisy Jennings-Gray of Benchmark. All this means that a global scramble for the metal has started. Argentina could benefit.

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