Chile to analyze 81 private lithium proposals, eyeing four projects by 2026


SANTIAGO (Reuters) -Chilean officials on Tuesday said they will consider 81 proposals for lithium projects, putting the country on track to surpass a goal of four new projects by the end of 2026, even as questions remain about how the process will move forward.

Chile in April called for proposals in more than two dozen salt flats that contain the battery metal, in line with the government’s aims to boost production. It is currently the world’s No. 2 producer, with output coming from just two companies, Chile’s SQM and U.S.-based Albemarle (NYSE:).

The firms interested in new projects are mostly Chile-based, as well as from Canada, Australia, Switzerland, the United States, China, Singapore, England, Germany and India, officials said.

The companies, which officials declined to name, submitted proposals for 16 salt flats across several regions, as well as other types of deposits containing lithium.

The Mining Ministry said the salt flats that attracted most interest are the ones with the best potential for extracting lithium, according to available information from Chile’s geology service.

The government will announce the process to award lithium extraction contracts next month, and potentially provide updates on projects in April or May of next year, Finance Minister Mario Marcel said.

The Mining Ministry said in a statement it is looking at various factors as it plans how to award contracts, including financial capacity, estimated annual production, planned technology and mining experience.

Some industry players say there is still lack of clarity about how the lithium contracts will be awarded and how the government will handle cases of overlapping ownership – given that in many areas, concessions for metals other than lithium have already been awarded.

SONAMI, Chile’s second-biggest mining association, said in a report released Tuesday ahead of the government announcement that prior statements from mining officials had raised more questions than answers, particularly around overlapping ownership and new technology known as direct lithium extraction (DLE).

“It’s not clear how they are looking at these aspects,” SONAMI said.

© Reuters. A drone view of the Lithium Conversion plant of U.S. lithium producer Albemarle, in La Negra, Antofagasta, Chile, March 2, 2024. REUTERS/Cristian Rudolffi/File photo

Marcel said the finalized list of contenders, after the government received proposals last month, is stronger than expected and could help Chile move faster to develop new projects by its goal for 2026. President Gabriel Boric’s administration ends in March of that year.

Boric has sought to boost the state role in the country’s lithium industry notably across the Atacama salt flat, which has the highest lithium concentration in the world, while offering less explored deposits up to private developers.