Lithium Projects Likely to Exceed Government Targets in Chile

(Asian Metal Inc.)

(Bloomberg) -- Chile’s government said that strong interest from private firms in lithium deals meant it could exceed its goal of three to four new projects in development by the end of 2026.

The 88 lithium development proposals received by the government came from 54 individual companies and groups, according to a presentation by the Mining Minister Aurora Williams on Tuesday. Almost 60 are domiciled in Chile, while the others include 11 from Canadian, four from Australia, three from the US and two from China. The names of those vying for contracts weren’t disclosed.

“The results of this process far exceed our expectations and opens space for the exploration of lithium in places not initially considered,” said Finance Minister Mario Marcel. It also shows that the government’s strategy for boosting production is far from a nationalization, as some had suggested, he said.

The interest comes despite a slowdown in electric-vehicle demand that has undermined lithium prices. Chile, home to the world’s biggest reserves of the battery metal, is banking on investors taking a long-term view on the strength of EV demand as the US and Europe attempt to loosen China’s grip on global supply chains.

Sixty percent of the projects are within 16 salt flats and over 80% of the proposals considered the use of direct lithium extraction technology, which requires less water use.

Now authorities must chose areas to begin indigenous consultation before deciding on mechanisms for awarding contracts. The process is one of several in President Gabriel Boric’s strategy for reversing a gradual decline in Chile’s share of the global lithium market, with production currently limited to two operations in a single salt flat.

The government’s approach is divided into three categories. Two salt flats are deemed strategic, meaning future contracts will be controlled by the state. In two others, state-owned companies will have the flexibility to negotiate terms with private partners. In a third process, the door is open for companies to control projects and even go it alone.

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