The salt flat ('playa') Salar De Atacama, Chile. Image: Wikimedia user: Francesco Mocellin.
Lithium mining and extraction companies have made several recent high profile moves to increase their production of the metal, which is used to make the batteries in many stationary energy storage systems and EVs.
This includes the acquisition of a lithium mining operation in Nevada, US, home of Tesla’s Gigafactory, by Toronto Venture Stock Exchange (TSX-V) -listed LiCo Energy Metals, which has also signalled its intent to acquire exploitation concessions for lithium in Chile. Meanwhile, US-headquartered Albemarle Corporation, which owns the only existing lithium mine in the US - also in Nevada - announced that it too is seeking a big win in Chile, striking a deal to increase its lithium production from an existing facility.
LiCo Energy Metals announced on Friday that it had brokered a deal, subject to stock exchange approval, with exploration company Nevada Energy Metals, for 199 placer claims in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. LiCo would earn an undivided 70% interest, while paying a 3% net smelter return royalty to Nevada Energy Metals. LiCo will pay the exploration company the sum of US$170,000 and issue it with 1.5 million shares upon approval by TSX-V. Then in the first year of the deal it would give Nevada Energy Metals another 1.5 million shares and then the same amount again in the second year. Before the third year LiCo will pay out a US$1,250,000 work commitment as well as paying a cash finder’s fee of US$75,000.
The Black Rock site covers about 2,000 square kilometres. The area in question contains lithium values “well below those of producing lithium brines”, but do represent a “significant source of metal available for evaporative concentration,” LiCo said.
In Chile, LiCo has signed a non-binding letter of intent (LOI) with Durus Copper Chile Spa of Santiago, for a 60% concession to lithium mined from the Salar de Atacama, a vast salt flat and the largest and purest source of lithium in the world. The 160-hectare Purickuta Lithium Exploitation Concession lies within an existing concession owned by Chilean chemical company Sociedad Quimica y Minera.
The project is located close to Albemarle’s interests in Salar de Atacama, which have been boosted by the extension of a lithium production rights agreement with the Chilean Economic Development Agency (Corfo), which owns its own concession. Extending the terms of the agreement, the company is allowed to extract sufficient lithium to annually produce more than 80,000MT of technical and battery-grade lithium salts for the next 27 years at its production facilities in Antofagasta. Corfo reported that this agreement between it and Albemarle's subsidiary Rockwood would net some US$2.7 billion for the Latin American country's government from now until 2043.
“With this agreement, we can further support growth of our long-term customers within the energy storage market and other high growth applications,” John Mitchell, president of Albemarle’s lithium and advanced materials global business unit said.
“We are proud to be part of this transformational agreement that allows for broad collaboration, value sharing, and sustainable development of important lithium-based advanced materials within the country of Chile."
Mitchell added that Albemarle was proud to extend its partnership with the Chilean government and pointed out that his company was the first to begin the mining of lithium in the area 36 years ago.
LiCo's Purickuta Project, Chile. Image: LiCo.
Competitors on the playas
LiCo Energy Metals could also become the 100% owner of a large lithium exploration project at Humboldt Salt Marsh, Nevada. Meanwhile another Canadian company, Barisan Gold, also TSX-V listed, announced back in September that it is going after lithium properties in Nevada and salt flats ('playas') in Arizona, as well as changing the company name to Lithion Energy Corp in order to primarily reposition itself to take on the lithium market, having previously been mostly involved in gold and latterly copper.
Also, in Australia Galaxy Resources reported to the Australian Stock Exchange that it shipped deliveries of its first lithium concentrate extracted from the Mt Cattlin mine in West Australia. It loaded approximately 10,000MT on a vessel bound for Lianyungang Port, China, worth around US$6 million and is expecting payment soon from customer Mitsubishi. Galaxy hopes to mine 160,000 tonnes this calendar year.