Business developer Elon Musk's Tesla has been eyeing Argentine lithium for its battery-powered cars, due to which suppliers intend to double down output at Catamarca, it was reported.
Tesla officials met in the Argentine northwestern province with executives from Livent, a US capital mining company that exploits the Salar del Hombre Muerto facility in the Andes Mountains (4,000 meters above sea level), approximately 1,300 kilometers from Buenos Aires, which produces lithium carbonate, one of the main inputs used in electric car batteries.
At that meeting, the mining company confirmed an investment of US$ 1.1 billion, to triple its activity in the South American country. Livent, with offices in Philadelphia and plants in the USA, China, England, and India, currently produces 20,000 tons of lithium carbonate per year and plans three stages of expansion to reach 60,000 tons per year by the end of 2025.
In 2020, the company started the expansion of its facilities to add, in a first stage, a capacity of 10,000 tons per year, and confirmed that in June it will start the works of a new phase to be able to produce an additional 10,000 tons per year.
Provincial authorities have also confirmed the company has already started negotiations for the construction of a new exploitation block which will add another 20,000 tons of calcium carbonate.
They confirmed that they are going to generate the requests for permits and authorizations for this exploitation, Catamarca Mining Minister Marcelo Murúa was quoted as saying.
Tesla, which has Livent as one of its suppliers and bets to be one of the main clients of its increased production in Catamarca, is part of this plan, according to press reports. Another carmaker to purchase from Livent will be BMW, which in 2021 signed a contract with Livent for US$ 350 million to secure part of the local mining company. Argentina will thus be the second global supplier of lithium to the company, behind Australia.
Lithium production in Argentina has been going on for more than 25 years. It was destined for a lot of uses, from ceramics to medicinal issues, and in the last few years, it has increased due to electromobility and the way this sector has been mutating towards more sustainable systems. A new market has been added, which is batteries, Murúa pointed out.
Livent is the first mining company operating in Catamarca. The company plans to double its production capacity in Argentina by the end of 2023.
Salar del Hombre Muerto is said to be the purest source of lithium brine, according to the US multinational. Livent also has a plant in the province of Buenos Aires, which produces lithium chloride from purified brine. Lithium chloride is used to obtain lithium metal.
In addition to Livent, there are two projects to exploit lithium in Catamarca, which are in the construction stage. One is being developed by the Australian company Galaxy Lithium, and the other is in charge of Liex, a subsidiary in the country of the Chinese company Zinjin Mining Group, which bought over Canadian Neo Lithium some time ago.
The company has announced an investment of US$ 380 million for the construction of its lithium carbonate processing plant this year.