Lithium has once again been the protagonist this week after the Government of Chile (the second largest producer in the world, only after Australia) announced its intention to nationalize the production of the so-called white gold as part of its new “National Lithium Policy” for the management of this metal, an initiative that contemplates creating a state company.
It is not surprising, then, that producing countries or countries with potential reserves, such as Peru, find after this first warning the opportunity to gain steps in the race for mining that between 2012 and 2022 grew globally by more than 271%. Not surprisingly, global purchases of electric cars went from 3 to 6.6 million per year in 2021.
The fever is here. In our country, the Ministry of Energy and Mines (Minem) has been quick to announce the prompt delivery of new exploration permits for the Macusani Yellowcake company, after which the American Lithium subsidiary could confirm and convert the 4, 7 million tons of lithium that he estimates in the womb of Falchani, his project based in Puno. Everything should be ready before June, according to Minister Óscar Vera himself.
Minem seeks to industrialize lithium. Photo: diffusion
For Rómulo Mucho, former Vice Minister of Mines, Falchani contains a potential of up to 40 years of exploitation in rock that could annex Peru to the so-called ‘Lithium Triangle’, made up of Bolivia, Argentina and Chile. In fact, it is important to note that the deposit does not contain uranium and, on the contrary, it does contain potassium for agriculture.
“In Puno you still have to work very hard, it is not known for sure how much lithium there is. The company should have an answer in two or three years, but for that, diamond drilling in the area must be completed. MinemMeanwhile, it must accompany and streamline its value chain to feed the industry,” says the professor.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the world could experience a lithium shortage by 2025, while Credit Suisse believes demand could triple between 2020 and 2025, meaning “supply would dry up.”
The white gold route
Despite the fact that the issue of nationalization is not new in Peru (it happened unsuccessfully with Camisea), no one has talked about nationalizing lithium. It is not considered necessary either.
However, economists such as José De Echave envision a clash of interests with the southern population itself, which has a document that demands not only the development of one more extractive activity, but the establishment of a real and total lithium industry.
For example, in Peru batteries will not be manufactured. At least not in the first stage. Macusani He has clarified that his work ends in the transformation of lithium carbonate into battery grade, and for this a refinery will be forged in Puno.
“Our business ends there, if they want to manufacture batteries, it would be another aspect,” said Ulises Solís, head of Macusani, a few weeks ago in Congress.
Some constitutional locks that prevent Peru today from defining the destination of its resources could be a tough obstacle for this lithium-promoting government at some point, warns the Cooper Acción specialist.
“That is why, in Peru, only concentrates are exported, such as copper and phosphate rock. Falchani occurs in a context in which several countries in the region are considering nationalizingand the agreement that can be reached with the population will be important,” stresses De Echave.
- $88,000 was the price of a ton of lithium in 2022.
- The price of lithium fell 70% in 2022. It would be temporary.
- 8 kg of lithium are used for a standard electric car.
Rómulo Mucho, former Vice Minister of Mines
“Producing countries, such as Chile and Argentina, export lithium as carbonate. But the nationalization announcements have surprised investors, who are now looking to Australia.
José De Echave, economist
“In Chile, current contracts are not being ignored and in Peru a similar debate could be opened. The challenge lies in how the exploitation of resources is done according to national development objectives”.
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