Argentina lithium projects suspended on virus lockdown

Argentina’s lithium brine industry have announced that they will suspend their on-site project works until the end of March after the Argentinian government imposed a nationwide lockdown to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in the country.

Australian lithium miners Galaxy Resources and Orocobre announced the suspension of on-site operations at their Argentinian projects on Monday March 23 to comply with the government’s nationwide lockdown.

Galaxy’s workforce from its pilot Sal de Vida project is being demobilized from the site with only a handful of workers remaining for “essential services.”

The company added that the pilot project has advanced to pond lining completion and plant commissioning but the restrictions “will inevitably slow down on-site activities.”

Meanwhile, Orocobre has moved its Olaroz lithium facility in Argentina to care and maintenance in response to the government measures. The company said that it has suspended operations related to the Stage 2 site expansion at Olaroz.

It added that it plans to restart operations within a week once the quarantine measures end.

Orocobre said it has sufficient stock at its Olaroz facility to clear customers’ orders until the end of April. But it highlighted that its ability to meet demand will depend on the restart of operations by customers in Asia and Europe and on the ability to export products from Olaroz to ports in Argentina and/or Chile.

Orocobre added that construction works at its lithium hydroxide plant in Naraja, Japan, are currently unaffected but “there might be some disruptions with Chinese sourced equipment that could delay completion.”

Another producer, Canadian junior miner Lithium Americas, said at the end of last week that it will suspend works at the Cauchari-Olaroz lithium project in Argentina to comply with the government’s measures.

The company said that the suspension may delay the previous estimated timeframe for the project’s completion of early 2021.

Lithium prices have fallen modestly since the outbreak of the coronavirus at the end of December since the spread of the deadly virus hit both supply and demand during an already low-price environment.

Fastmarkets assessed the price of lithium carbonate 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China at 43,000-49,000 yuan ($6,060-6,906) per tonne on March 19. This was down 4.2% from the end of last year, when the price stood at 45,000-51,000 yuan per tonne.