The global lithium market is expanding at a rapid pace and studies are showing that the market is expected to be grossing US$30 billion by 2020. The ongoing global demand for lithium-ion powered devices such as mobile phones, electric cars, laptops, etc has been a major contributing factor driving the current “lithium boom”. A major contribution to the market has come from Australia with the country currently sitting as the biggest influencer in the global lithium market. Australia produced 13,400mt (metric tonnes) of the mineral for the year of 2015 with Chile coming a close second, producing 12,900mt. The role of which South America is playing in the lithium market is also well established with numerous countries in the continent producing and exporting large quantities of the mineral to worldwide consumers.
In recent times, much of the worlds investment attention has been focused on a thriving region covering three countries in South America which holds the worlds most significant lithium deposits. The Lithium Triangle comprises sections of NW Argentina as well as northern Chile and Bolivia, where the majority of the worlds lithium reserves are currently lying dormant. Listed below are some of the Lithium Triangle’s top projects to watch..
Project - Salar de Olaroz
Company – Orocobre Ltd
Country – Argentina
Salar de Olaroz is located in the elevated Puna plateau region of Argentina's north-west province of Jujuy. The operation consists of 63,000 hectares of tenements over a salt lake, namely “salar” which contains high values of lithium and potash in brine. Salar de Olaroz is operating at around 17,500tpa and holds an estimated mine life which will allow production to continue for at least the next 40 years. For this reason is it one of the key contributors to our current global market. The processing method at Olaroz is based on existing brine treatment operations with modifications tailored to suit the brine chemistry and climatic conditions at Olaroz.
Project - Salar de Atacama
Company – Albemarle Lithum
Country - Chile
Salar de Atacama is located on the western region of Andean Altiplano in northern Chile, around 210 km east of Antofagasta. The site is around 16,700 hectares in size and is operated by Albemarle Lithium. The lithium-containing brine at Salar de Atacama is pumped out of the Salar into evaporation ponds, concentrated, and then purified on its way through the processing chain. The brine is passed through a cascade of ponds where impurities or by-products are crystallized and removed (main by-products include potash and bischofite). The final brine is then transported to the process plant for further purification and processing to produce lithium carbonate and lithium chloride.
Project - Salar Uyuni
(Currently a Government Run Project)
Salar Uyuni, is located within the Bolivian Altiplano and stands as the largest salt lake in the Andes, covering an area of 10 square km. Reserves within the salar are estimated to be around 9.0 Mt of Lithium, making Salar Uyuni the single largest reserve of lithium in the world. The site is yet to be operational due to challenges associated to the remoteness and elevation of the salar and the fact there is very little surrounding infrastructure to make the project viable at present. Furthermore, Bolivia lacks a seaport and the type of brine within the salar requires a constant supply of costly chemicals for consistent production. In order to become a viable operation, the salt flat would require the construction of brand new transportation infrastructure from salar to port and the procurement of both technology and skilled labour from outside the country. The government’s strict policy’s surrounding a maximum of 15 percent for foreign employees also creates an additional obstacle .
Project - Salar de Hombre Muerto
Company – Minera del Altiplano (FMC Lithium)
Country - Argentina
Salar del Hombre Muerto is located within NW Argentina in the high altitude Puna region, 1400km northwest of Buenos Aires. The salar is run by FMC Lithium’s subsidiary - Minera del Altiplano and has been operating since 1997. The lithium salts produced on site are transported 99 km by road to the Salar de Pocitos station on the railway line that links through Chile to the port of Antofagasta. During the year of 2015, most of Argentina’s recorded lithium production came from Salar del Hombre Muerto and indicated reserves show that the site can continue to operate in such a way for the next 75 years.
Project - Sal de Vida
Company – Galaxy Resources
Country - Argentina
The Sal de Vida deposit is located in NW Argentina on the eastern half of the Salar de Hombre Muerto in the NE Catamarca Province. The Sal de Vida (Salt of Life) deposit is one of the world’s largest and highest quality undeveloped lithium brine deposits. The project holds significant expansion potential with a recently completed DFS on the estimating that when fully operational, Sal de Vida has potential to generate annual revenue in the region of US$215 million per year (before tax) for around 40 years. Development options of the project have been designed utilizing low cost modular designs which provide flexibility to up scale capacity for tonnage each year. When completed, the project will hold evaporation ponds, a battery grade lithium carbonate plant and a potash plant.
Operations have been active in some areas within the lithium triangle over the past few decades. However, the region is still very much in it’s infancy in terms of it's full potential. Over the coming years, global demand will continue to drive the lithium industry in the right way and from the way things are looking, many projects within the lithium triangle will be coming online at exactly the right time.
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