This week, representatives from the US Department of Energy met in Salta with the state’s Minister of Production, Work, and Sustainable Development, Paula María Bibini to express interest in developing petroleum and lithium investments. The officials, including the USG Director of Energy Programs Paul Hueper agreed to continue working together to analyze the potential partnerships in the state. In November, Salta announced it will redefine 15 new areas for hydrocarbon production for investments.
The world’s “Lithium Triangle” sits in northwest Argentina, southern Bolivia, and northeastern Chile, representing a location with more than half of the world’s amount of lithium. This metal is mined for its usage in lithium-ion batteries that can power everything from an iPhone to a Prius. The Economist has called lithium “the world’s hottest commodity” and praise from Goldman Sachs as the “new gasoline” makes it clear that investments in lithium will continue to be extremely valuable. Explorers, developers, and producers of lithium can invest in the countries, each with varying degrees of difficulty.
For decades, Chile has championed itself as a lithium powerhouse with its resources in the Atacama Desert allowing for an ideal production climate. Since 2014 however, ongoing legal disputes with one of the two extracting companies in Chile, SQM, has plateaued the country’s production. Fortunately for Chile, the legal issues have been resolved as of a few days ago so they can get right back into it for 2018. Bolivia has touted its vast lithium resources in Uyuni, though these largely remain untapped. Bolivian President Evo Morales has not made it easy for international companies for market entry, with attempts to largely nationalize the sector.
Since his inauguration, the Macri administration has piqued international interest in the lithium game, creating a far more conducive environment for international companies to come invest than his predecessor, former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. Within the first few months in office, Macri removed the five percent export tax in the mining industry and mining firms lauded his other economic changes like the removal of both capital controls and prohibition of repatriating profits. These efforts have paid off with production rising nearly 60 percent in 2016, Macri’s first year in office. That year, lithium attracted $1.5 billion in investment commitments.
Argentina has an ambitious goal of producing 145,000 tons of lithium carbonate in 2022. The two current lithium deposits at Hombre Muerto (Catamarca/Salta provinces) and Olaroz de Sales (Jujuy province) produced a total of 40,000 tons last year.