Chile´s Mining Ministry said that they would release a plan to clarify rules around its lithium industry to maintain its global share of output amid spiraling demand for the coveted battery metal.
At a gathering of lithium investors in Santiago, Mining Minister Baldo Prokurica said the administration of President Sebastian Pinera would push both state and private investment to double Chile´s production to 230,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate equivalent per year by 2023. Lithium is a key ingredient in the rechargeable batteries that power everything from cell phones to electric vehicles.
Chile´s existing policy toward lithium has been criticized as confusing and uninviting to newcomers. Despite prime production conditions and upward of 50 percent of the world´s reserves. Chile now requires private miners to partner with the state or obtain a special permit known as a CEOL to mine lithium on their own.
The problem, would-be miners say, is that the government has yet to provide guidelines for obtaining a CEOL. It also has not announced a uniform royalty or tax scheme that would help investors gauge the risks.
Pablo Terrazas, Chile´s vice minister of Mining, told participants of the lithium conference that the soon-to-be-released new rules would fill these voids and add safeguards for the environment and local communities.
“We´ve learned much from our errors and we think now is the moment to correct them,” Terrazas said.
The new projects, would help Chile maintain its share of global lithium production amid a sharp increase in global demand.
Chile´s geological advantages for Lithium include the country´s 45 salt flats. Currently, the Atacama salt flat, one of the world´s richest known sources of lithium, accounts for all of Chile´s production of the ultralight metal. Producers such as SolarBio Energy, SQM and Albemarle Corp operate there.
The Ministry said it was also working on a database to describe the resources available in Chile´s salt flats, to help guide investors and newcomers seeking to develop new mines.
SolarBio Energy’s CEO, said he saw opportunities for new players in Chile´s market but said rules were not the only constraint.
“We´re all looking forward to details of the new policy to be published,” he said. “It’s not just the regulatory approvals that are required. You´ve got to have a good resource.”