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Lithium markets set to grow in S. America

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Staff Writers
Buenos Aires (UPI) Mar 21, 2011
Lithium and lithium carbonate markets are set to grow in Latin America with the commissioning of a new lithium carbonate processing plant in Argentina and plans by Bolivia to use Iranian help in exploiting its deposits of the mineral.

A new lithium carbonate processing plant that opened in the Argentine province of Salta, close to the country's borders with Bolivia and Chile, aims to become the world's largest processing facility of its kind, officials said. Currently Chile is the world's largest lithium producer.

The lithium carbonate processing plant is a joint venture between Australia's Admiralty Resources and Argentine interests. ADY helped set up the plant in a region rich in lithium deposits, about 10,000 feet above the sea level.

The Argentine plant has come on stream while Bolivia considers how to move forward with its ambitious plans to exploit its vast lithium reserves. Bolivia's plans to enter into a joint venture with Iran raised opposition among the country's internationally connected financial interests.

Argentine officials said the Salar del Rincon plant aimed to be the largest in the world for the processing of lithium carbonate, a key mineral with diverse industrial and scientific uses, including rechargeable batteries, digital products and medicine.

ADY Resources has said it plans to invest $300 million in addition to about $75 million it says it has already spent on developing the facility.

Salar del Rincon generated about 100 jobs in one of the remotest locations of Argentina and would aim to exploit the Argentine part of an estimated 9 million tons of proven reserves said to be located in Argentina, Bolivia and Chile.

Argentina exports lithium to the United States and Britain, China, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands and Russia.

Last year, Bolivian President Evo Morales announced he would partner with Iran to push forward development of the country's lithium reserves. Earlier, Bolivia announced other countries and international companies and consortiums had also approached with offers to develop the country's lithium deposits.

Little has been heard since last October of Iran's offer to lend Bolivia about $283 million to finance development projects, some with Iranian assistance.

Market analysts said global demand for lithium is set to rise, partly amid expectations that lithium as a crucial ingredient for hybrid and electric cars could fetch high prices in the coming years.

About 60 mining companies have done feasibility studies in Latin America, Nevada and as far afield as Serbia. New lithium projects were started recently in Canada, China, Finland and Mexico.

Analysts said recycling of lithium from used batteries was also poised to become a major business.

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