EconomyFinancialLithium for Mexico enters the race for lithium without...

Lithium for Mexico enters the race for lithium without certainty about how much ore there is in the country

The rumor began to spread in 2019. At the end of that year, the Mexican government confirmed the existence of a lithium deposit in Bacadéhuachi, Sonora , and at the same time Mining Technology, a consulting firm and news site specialized in the mining industry, placed the reserve located in the north of the country in the number one place in a list called Top ten of the largest lithium mines in the world’ . The publication claimed that the deposit, then majority owned by the Anglo-Canadian Bacanora Lithium , was the largest reserve of lithium in clay with almost 244 million tons of ore.

Then the furor over lithium in the country grew. In 2021, the Chinese giant Ganfeng Lithium, one of the four largest companies in the lithium market and a supplier to Tesla, somewhat confirmed expectations, by acquiring 100% of the deposit. The space has not yet started production, the last date given by the company for the start of extraction is 2024, and its economic viability has not yet been fully demonstrated, say specialists on the subject. But three years later, the company’s data is different from what had raised expectations: they will be able to extract between 3 and 4 million tons of lithium carbonate. A not insignificant amount, but much less than the rumors had initially raised.

“In Mexico, lithium was unknown until 10 or 15 years ago. Yes, there were some studies by the Geological Service that, like other elements, had mapped the areas where there could be some type of occurrence,” says Luca Ferrari, a doctor in Earth Sciences and an academic at UNAM.

But the demand for the mineral and with it its price have made it turn towards it as a possibility to increase state income. With this, the price has taken a similar trend: the spot price of lithium carbonate in China, the main player in the market, increased from approximately 7,000 dollars per tonne at the beginning of 2021 to more than 26,000 dollars at the end of the year.

The Mexican government yesterday published the , “LitioMx”, the state agency that will lead all activities related to lithium production, after the veto of private participation that raised the last change to the Mining Law. But it has done so without reliable data on the amount of lithium in Mexican territory. The Mexican Geological Service has identified more than 80 probable regions where the mineral could be found and is developing a study to determine the existence of reserves, but beyond that, the federal administration does not have accurate data on the mineral whose exploitation has just been completed. Reserve.

“The reality is that in Mexico we do not have enough data to make a minimally serious prospective,” explains Rigoberto García Ochoa, an academic from the Colegio de la Frontera Norte. The researcher, a critic of the formation of the new state body, says that the great promise that Mexico is a probable great producer was born of “a false expectation, an illusion.”

“It is a communication problem that has led to a series of expectations that are false, it was mentioned that the deposit in Bacadehuachi was the largest in the world and that there were reserves of approximately 243 million tons, which made it the largest single deposit in the world. Hence, immediately, when seeing all that wealth contained in the soil of Bacadehuachi, these expectations have been created”, he says in an interview.

The country does not have any reserves in the exploitation phase. The areas identified so far by the Mexican Geological Service are still only probable reserves and verifying their economic viability is still a long way off. The federal government, through Lithium for Mexico, also reserved the exploration of the mineral. The decree mentions that the body will be in charge of “locating and recognizing the geological areas in which there are probable lithium reserves with the help of the Mexican Geological Service.” Analysts already anticipate that this type of study requires many resources and that a lack of government capital could delay knowing how much lithium there is actually in the country.

“For sure we don’t know how much lithium we have that is really profitable, in the case of minerals, after prospecting, reserves are estimated, a bit like in oil. In Mexico, the only proven reserves are those of Bacanora Lithium, there in Sonora, because it is the first large project where quantitative studies have been carried out on the concentration of lithium in the clay”, says Ferrari.

Data from the United States Geological Survey place Mexico in an important place with respect to the nations with the most reserves of the mineral, but still far from the great holders of lithium, such as Bolivia or Australia. The organization places the country in the 10th place, but everything is a matter of perspective, say the interviewees. Mexico, according to these estimates, would have 1.7 million tons of reserves, less than 10% of what Bolivia or Argentina have, who lead the lists, with 21 and 19 million tons of mineral reserves, respectively.

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