September 2016: Speakers on the first day of Chile Explore Congress 2016 highlighted the strong outlook for the country’s lithium industry amidst rising demand for batteries used in electric vehicles.
The two day conference dedicated to mineral exploration is taking place at the Grand Hyatt Santiago on September 7th-8th.
Chris Berry of House Mountain Partners predicted that global lithium demand could rise more than 50% by 2020 to almost 300,000t but few new lithium projects could be developed by then.
That situation has sparked interest among investors and companies; the number of juniors chasing opportunities in lithium has risen to over 40 from just 18 two years ago.
“I am optimistic about what will happen with lithium because there is a lot of knowhow and knowledge involved in its development,” the consultant added.
The world’s largest lithium reserves are to be found in the Southern Cone, specifically in Argentina, Bolivia and Chile. Chile’s reserves of 7.5Mt (of which 6.3Mt are in the Salar de Atacama) mean that the country is a major player in this market.
Although the Chilean constitution reserves development of lithium for the state, it is possible for private companies to sign special contracts to enter production, explained lawyer Marcelo Olivares.
One newcomer is Wealth Minerals (TSXV:WML), which has acquired claims totalling 52,000h on Chilean salares this year, including 42,000h on the Salar de Atacama, said country manager Marcelo Awad.
Lithium Power International is another company which is investing in Chile. It recently acquired a stake in the Maricunga project in Region III, one of the highest quality projects in Latin America, with reserves estimated at 574 ,000t.
“We trust in Chile and its government,” said CEO Martin Holland, adding that work on a feasibility and environmental impact studies should be ready next year.
Aníbal Gajardo, a geologist with mining and geology service Sernageomin, highlighted that the real potential of Chile’s high-altitude salares remains unknown. But investors should be aware of other stakeholders. “Any extractive activity must be undertaken showing respect to the environment and local communities,” he said.