(Bloomberg) -- Chile’s state-owned Enami will be in a position to choose a partner for a sprawling lithium project by mid next year, saying a plunge in prices of the battery metal hasn’t damped the interest of prospective investors.

The ore-processing company is one of two entities assigned to represent the state under President Gabriel Boric’s new public-private model for tapping more of the world’s biggest lithium reserves. It’s about to begin indigenous consultation as part of an application for an operational contract at the Altoandino project that spans about 100 square miles in the salt flats of northern Chile.   

Chief Executive Officer Ivan Mlynarz expects Enami to be granted the license in June or July, allowing it to chose a partner or partners to turn the early stage exploration project into one of South America’s biggest suppliers of the key component in electric-vehicle batteries. French miner Eramet SA just agreed to spend $95 million for nearby land holdings.

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Enami has spoken to “everyone” about the project, with interest coming from producers, technology providers and “those using lithium,” Mlynarz said in an interview from Santiago. Looking beyond a 75% price plunge this year, lithium’s appeal remains intact in the energy transition, he said. In fact lower prices may slow supply growth, making it tougher to meet future demand.

“But our job isn’t to speculate,” Mlynarz said. “It’s to advance with obtaining the special license and have the best possible geological information in order to have a partner mid next year to begin to build a lithium project.”

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