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Lithium venture in Chile in talks with EV firms to invest in mine project

18th January 2024

By: Reuters

  

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A joint venture valued at $1.5-billion to $2-billion that wants to become Chile’s third lithium producer is in talks with investors to bankroll its project.

Simco Lithium, owned by a Singaporean investment fund and a Chilean business group, is exploring the sale of a non-controlling stake, said Sebastian Yang, a board member representing the Simbalik fund. While the around $600-million project is too small to appeal to major mining firms, there is interest from battery and electric-vehicle makers.

“We’ve been in talks with different groups along the value chain,” he said in an interview.

Users of lithium, a key component in EV batteries, have been investing in exploration and extraction projects around the world as they look to lock in future supplies. While prices of the metal have plunged in the past year or so as new mines come on stream, the longer term outlook is supported by growing demand in the transition away from fossil fuels.

Simco, whose other owner is Chile’s Errazuriz group, is working with indigenous groups and finalizing a feasibility study for the project on the Maricunga salt flat. It hopes to begin construction this year using a direct extraction method developed by Utah’s IBC Advanced Technologies that’s been working well in a pilot plant, Yang said. It’s signed offtake accords with Japan’s Panasonic Holdings and Chori.

Chile’s only two producers today, SQM and Albemarle, operate with strict government output quotas. But Simco holds concessions that predate Chile’s 1982 code, meaning it can develop and operate the project independently, according to Yang. That’s despite the government introducing a new model in which private firms have to partner with state enterprises such as Codelco.

Salar Blanco, another Maricunga project with pre-code concessions, is being acquired by Codelco via the state company’s purchase of Lithium Power International. That deal would simplify Codelco’s efforts to develop lithium in the salt flat.

Simco plans to press ahead as an independent project and would seek arbitration if authorities rescinded its permits, Yang said. Still, the venture has proposed collaborating with Codelco on Maricunga, such as offering to process the state company’s brine or helping it set up its own plants. “The door is always open,” Yang said.

Simbalik may look to exit the venture once the mine is up and running, he said.

Edited by Reuters

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