Lithium projects are becoming a reality — and they’re already delivering the goods. On Tuesday, Australian mining company Allkem, which operates in Jujuy, announced it had finished its first production batch from Olaroz II, a project that is part of their expansion phase. In June, they reached another milestone: for the first time in seven years, a new lithium mine started production in Argentina.
Mining Secretariat sources expect a 50% rise this year compared with 2022, followed by a tripling in 2022’s production volumes in 2024. The boost would come from four projects that are expected to start operating in the first half of 2024, they say.
New projects in Jujuy
The company Sales de Jujuy, whose industrial plant is in the Salar de Olaroz region of Jujuy province, has finished the first stage of production in Olaroz II, the mining expansion project managed by Australian company Allkem, but also partly by Toyota and the Jujuy state company Jemse.
“We are very proud of reaching the milestone of Olaroz II’s first production batch, which proves the operational viability of the carbonation process,” said Allkem CEO and global director Martín Pérez de Solay. “This achievement proves our team’s experience, and they will now focus on finishing the implementation to reach maximum capacity.”
Sales de Jujuy began exporting in 2016 with the Olaroz I project. When Olaroz II is operating at full capacity, the company’s production of lithium carbonate of the highest purity will rise to 25,000 tonnes per year, doubling their total annual production capacity to 42,000 tonnes.
The Olaroz II expansion project began in late 2019 with a US$425 million investment. It involved building 15 new brine extraction wells, 31 evaporation pools, three lime plants, a reverse osmosis water plant, a chemical discharge plant, a 47km aqueduct with pumps, a soda ash plant and a carbonation plant.
All the project’s technical grade lithium carbonate will be exported as raw material for Allkem and Toyota’s plant in Naraha, Japan.
Another lithium landmark came last month, when mining company Exar started to operate. Owned by Chinese corporation Ganfeng and Canada’s Lithium Americas, the company’s kickoff means Argentina now has three operational lithium fields.
Exar’s project, called Cauchari-Olaroz and also located in Jujuy, delivered its first production of lithium, which is not of battery grade. Once their production capacity increase is complete, it aims to produce 40,000 tonnes per year. An expansion is then scheduled to increase production by at least 20,000 tonnes.
Mining Secretariat sources therefore expect lithium production to hit 60,000 tonnes for 2023, a 50% jump from 2022. Last year’s output was almost 38,000 tonnes, made up of production from Sales de Jujuy and US mining company Livent’s Fénix project in Salar del Hombre Muerto (Dead Man Salt Flat) in Catamarca province.
However, the big jump may occur in 2024, when production could reach 120,000 tonnes, nearly three times 2022’s production. According to the Secretariat, which operates under the Economy Ministry, this figure could be reached with four projects that will start up in the first quarter of the year: Tres quebradas, from Zijin company in Catamarca; Centenario Ratones, from Eramine, in Salta; Sal de Oro, from South Korea’s POSCO, in Salta and Catamarca; and Mariana, from China’s Ganfeng, in Salta.