Eramine Sudamerica joins Argentine lithium race with Salta plant – ET Auto

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Argentina, located on the so-called “lithium triangle” spanning Bolivia and Chile, is the world’s fourth-largest producer and has been drawing investment from foreign firms as far as Canada and China.

Eramine Sudamerica is set to inaugurate its first lithium carbonate plant in the northern Argentine province of Salta this July, setting it on track to become the South American country’s fourth producer of the key battery metal.

The group, owned by French miner Eramet and Chinese steelmaker Tsingshan, expects to produce some 3,000 tons this year and ramp up to some 24,000 tons by 2025, the company’s sustainability director Constanza Cintioni told Reuters in an interview.

Lithium, which is used for batteries in mobile phones and electric vehicles (EV), saw its price skyrocket over recent years, before plunging in 2023 largely due to slowing EV sales in China. Over half the world’s known lithium resources are in South America.

Argentina, located on the so-called “lithium triangle” spanning Bolivia and Chile, is the world’s fourth-largest producer and has been drawing investment from foreign firms as far as Canada and China.

This comes as libertarian President Javier Milei seeks to shore up depleted foreign reserves with dollars from mining, energy and grains exports, to battle the country’s sky-high inflation and its worst economic crisis in decades.

The Eramine Sudamerica plant is located on the Centenario Ratones salt flat, some 1,400 kilometers northwest of Buenos Aires and 4,000 meters above sea level.

Cintioni said its output will be 100% exported and it has an expected useful lifespan of 40 years. She estimated a total investment of some USD 800 million and said the firm plans to set up a similar plant in the same basin at a later date.

The plant marks the first lithium carbonate plant in Salta and joins three others in Argentina, where industry sources estimate lithium exports jumped 20% last year.

There are two more projects in Jujuy province, a project by Sales de Jujuy and Allkem located on the Olaroz salt flat, and in Olaroz Cauchari a project by Exar, a firm owned by China’s Ganfeng and Canada’s Lithium Americas.

The third project is on the Hombre Muerto salt flat in Catamarca province, run by U.S. giant Arcadium Lithium.

Unlike other projects which extract lithium via brine evaporation from pools, the Eramine Sudamerica plant will use a direct extraction method.

“This is a much more efficient process,” Cintioni said, pointing to less need for brine pumping. “The level of lithium recovery from the brine that is extracted is 90%.”

  • Published On May 7, 2024 at 05:19 PM IST

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