SANTIAGO, Jan 10 (Reuters) – Chilean state miner Codelco, the world’s largest copper producer, said it expects to start lithium exploration activities in the Maricunga salt flat in the north of the country during the first quarter of this year.
In a note sent to Reuters on Monday, Codelco added that the results of those explorations will determine the next stages of the project.
“It is expected to start exploration activities in the Salar de Maricunga within the first quarter of 2022, which will last 10 months, and may be delayed depending on the weather conditions of next winter,” said the company.
“This will be the first exploration campaign (drilling and hydrogeological characterization) and with the results of the same, the execution of more studies and a possible future exploitation project will be decided,” he added.
In November 2020, Codelco said it had obtained the green light from environmental regulators to carry out the exploration plan.
The company said that during 2021 it was processing “the different sectorial permits required” to be able to enter the field and start explorations. “To date, a couple of them are pending, which should be approved in the coming months.”
For years Codelco has voiced the possibility of entering the lithium business, but has repeatedly delayed plans to develop its reserves to focus on copper, its main business.
The Chilean government is promoting a tender to award operating contracts to explore and produce 400,000 tons of metallic lithium for batteries, the result of which should be known this week. The Chilean SQM, the world’s second largest lithium producer, and the giant Albemarle are two of the five companies that are in the running.
(Reporting by Natalia Ramos, edited by Gabriela Donoso)