Lithium: Albemarle expands into Argentina

Roskill view: Albemarle’s exploration and acquisition agreement with Bolland Minera for the Salar de Antofalla, Catamarca Province, Argentina, marks Albemarle’s first foray into Argentinean lithium development following competitor SQM’s joint venture with Lithium Americas announced earlier in 2016 on the back of an improved political and economic climate in Argentina. It is also the latest in a line of deals announced by the company as it seeks to become the dominant force in lithium production (Albemarle is already the leading lithium producer by revenue). The deal further cements Argentina’s leading position in lithium brine exploration and development.

According to Bolland Minera, the Salar de Antofalla has a surface of 706km2. Bolland has to-date drilled 56 boreholes over 265km2 and defined a resource of 83Mt of potash (KCl) grading 6,400mg/l and 2.22Mt of lithium (11.8Mt LCE) grading 350mg/l. While the lithium grade at Antofalla is much lower than Albemarle’s operations at Salar de Atacama in Chile, which averages around 1,800mg/l, it is higher than at its Silver Peak operation in the USA where lithium has been produced since the 1960s; Albemarle will presumably now look to evaluate whether the Antofalla resource could support its third commercial lithium brine operation and add another angle to the company’s growing geographical diversity.

Albemarle’s move into Argentina might also further hint at a growing frustration over the direction of lithium policy in Chile, despite Albemarle having also recently signed a MoU with the government and CORFO over a future large expansion at the Salar de Atacama. Delays to the permitting of Albemarle’s most recent expansion in Chile are, in part, a contributing factor to the market tightness seen in 2016.

To discuss the lithium market with Roskill, contact Robert Baylis:
Twitter: @robertbaylis

Roskill’s Lithium: Global Industry, Markets & Outlook report was published in 2016. Click here to download the brochure or sample pages or access further information.