AMERICA/ARGENTINA - Argentina is one of the largest lithium producers in the world: the intensive mining poses risks for the country's sensitive ecosystem

Thursday, 15 June 2023 ecology  

Reinhard Jahn

Buenos Aires (Agenzia Fides) - "I am very happy to be in Argentina, a valuable partner. There are so many opportunities waiting for us in the trade, energy or digital areas", wrote the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen on Twitter, on the sidelines of her visit to Buenos Aires, where she met Argentine President Alberto Angel Fernandez, with whom she signed a memorandum of understanding on sustainable raw materials value chains between the European Union and Argentina.
This includes lithium, a mineral that is essential for the so-called energy transition (it is needed for modern batteries). Argentina is the fourth largest supplier of lithium in the world after Australia, Chile and China.
Argentina comprises a significant part of what is known as the Lithium Triangle, which stretches across northwestern Argentina, Chile and Bolivia, which contains more than half of the world's resources of this mineral. About half of the world's lithium is currently produced here and the area contains about 60% of the known lithium reserves. Most of the lithium in this area is contained in salt lake brine.
Today, thanks to the government's policy in Buenos Aires, which imposes no restrictions on foreign investments and companies engaged in exploration and extraction of natural resources, several international mining companies operate in Argentina at different points in the mineral
resources. Foreign individuals and legal entities can therefore easily acquire and hold mineral rights in Argentina.
Argentina expects lithium exports to total $5.6 billion by 2025. By then, Argentina aims to produce 200,000 tons of lithium annually through the development of six new mining projects and the increased production in the two existing lithium mines.
One of the two mines is located in the Olaroz Salt Mine in the northwestern province of Jujuy and is operated by Sales de Jujuy, a subsidiary of the Australian company Allkem. The second is located in the Hombre Muerto Salt Mine in the north-western province of Catamarca and is operated by the American company Livent.
Sales de Jujuy plans to increase its production by 25,000 tons over the next two years, while Livent plans to produce an additional 20,000 tons in total. By the middle of the decade, these quantities will be covered by the Chinese company Ganfeng Lithium's Cauchari Olaroz and Mariana mines, the French company Eramet's Centenario-Ratones mine, the South Korean company's Sal de Oro mine "Posco", the "Sal de Vida" mine of the Australian company "Allkem Lda" and finally the "Mine Tres Quebradas" of the Chinese company Zijin Mining.
For the year 2030, official forecasts assume annual exports of USD 8.7 billion from a total of 11 lithium mines.
However, current mining methods require the use of large amounts of fresh water. Hydrologists and environmentalists warn that the "lithium rush" in Argentina will turn the region's delicate ecosystems into a desert. Indigenous peoples in the high Andes fear this will sacrifice the scarce water resources they rely on for subsistence and grazing land to the global demand for green vehicles to combat climate change. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 15/6/2023)