Mexican officials hope a newly created state-run lithium company will catapult the country to the vanguard of the green energy revolution, but industry experts told Reuters hefty costs and international indifference are likely to stymie those plans.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador nationalized the country’s vast lithium deposits in April, hoping to cash in on surging demand for the metal from makers of electric vehicle (EV) batteries.
Obrador’s government says it is unsure of the exact value of Mexico’s lithium deposits but has cited past estimates they could be worth more than four times Mexico’s foreign debt, which Refinitiv data put at $215.77 billion in June.
The government expects the state miner to launch within six months, but has given little detail on how it will operate.
Lithium is typically extracted from hard rock or brines, but Mexico’s lithium is found mostly in clay deposits, from which the metal has never been extracted commercially, and industry experts doubt Mexico can do so without private expertise.
Bolivia, which has the world’s largest lithium resource, has tried and failed for years to commercially produce lithium using its state-owned firm.
“We’re counting our chickens before they’re hatched,” Jaime Gutierrez, the president of Mexico’s mining association, told a conference this week.
The association had earlier warned of limited information about the country’s lithium deposits and said the exploration and mine development could weigh heavily on public finances.
China’s Ganfeng has been developing Mexico’s largest lithium project at a clay deposit in Sonora. Ganfeng hopes the Sonora mine will produce 35,000 tonnes of lithium per year – a figure that would hurtle Mexico into the ranks of major international players. Ganfeng did not respond to requests for comment about how the nationalization plan would affect it.
Source: El Financiero