BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Lithium Americas, the Canadian company developing a lithium production site in Argentina, will continue looking for deposits in the South American country after its site in Jujuy province comes online, Chief Executive Tom Hodgson said in an interview.
In Buenos Aires for an investors’ conference hosted by President Mauricio Macri, who won office last year and has implemented a number of free-market reforms, Hodgson said construction of the Cauchari-Olaroz drilling site in Jujuy will start in the first half of next year.
The company will look at other opportunities in Argentina once the Cauchari-Olaroz site is squared away.
“There are certainly other attractive resource properties in Argentina,” he said. “We can’t do everything at once. This is a big project and we have to get it financed and built and in production. But, absolutely, we will look at other projects.”
Cauchari-Olaroz will produce 50,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate equivalent annually at a time of rising world demand, Hodgson added.
“We expanded our original plans of lithium production from 40,000 tonnes to 50,000 tonnes,” he told Reuters. The first 25,000 tonnes is expected to be extracted in 2019, he said.
Lithium drives much of the modern world. It forms a small but essentially irreplaceable component of rechargeable batteries used in consumer devices like mobile phones and electric cars. It also has pharmaceutical applications.
Over half of the earth’s identified resources of the mineral are found in South America’s “lithium triangle”, an otherworldly landscape of high-altitude lakes and bright white salt flats that straddles Chile, Argentina and Bolivia.
“There is a significant shortage of sustainable reliable lithium supply right now. There have been very few projects that have come online in the last few years,” Hodgson said, adding that the company is talking with electric car manufacturers about future sales.
“We are going to have a significant supply and they have a significant demand,” he said. “I don’t want to comment on individual companies, but companies of that type we have discussions with a significant number.”
Electric car manufacturers, including Elon Musk’s Tesla (TSLA.O), have been racing to secure supplies of the mineral. Technology firms like Samsung (005930.KS) and Foxconn (2354.TW) are also key users.
Writing by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Bernard Orr