Codelco to choose Maricunga lithium partner in Q1 2025, chairman says | Hotter Commodities

Codelco will make a choice on a partner for its lithium properties in the Maricunga salt flat in Chile’s Atacama region in the first quarter of 2025, the chairman of the state-owned producer said on Monday, April 15

The company has selected the Rothschild bank to help with identifying and selecting a partner to create a joint venture in which Codelco holds a majority stake of 51%, Máximo Pacheco told Fastmarkets.

“This process is going quite well, with lots of interest from different companies. We expect to finalize the process with Rothschild of identifying potential partners by the end of this year and make a decision on who’s going to be the partner in the first quarter of next year,” he said in an interview.

Speaking during the annual CESCO industry week in Santiago, Chile, Pacheco said that major copper producer Codelco will soon own almost two thirds of the lithium properties in the Maricunga salt flat.

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The company had already been conducting exploration at its own deposits there and recently acquired Australia’s Lithium Power International (LPI), which owns the Proyecto Blanco project in the same region, scheduled to come onstream in 2027.

A recent deal with Chilean miner Sociedad Quimica y Minera (SQM) has added to Codelco’s Maricunga deposits, Pacheco said.

“We have agreed with SQM that the properties that it owns in Maricunga will be transferred to Codelco,” he told Fastmarkets.

“So, with the properties that we historically own and the exploration plans that we have had there for many years, with the LPI acquisition and with the SQM properties, we will own almost 65% of the salt flat,” he added.

In 2023, Chile revealed plans for Codelco to take a majority stake in any future lithium production contracts while respecting existing mining leases in the country.

Last month, the government opened up 26 lithium salt flats for private investment and named the Atacama and Maricunga salt flats as strategic for the country.

Codelco is also working with SQM to create a joint venture starting from January 1, 2025, Pacheco said. Early talks to secure a deal with SQM began last year, but a final agreement – which would have upheld its existing contract to 2030 and then created a joint venture with Codelco as the majority owner until 2060 – has been postponed until May.

“We will be partners with SQM, with Codelco holding 50% plus one share. We’ve made a lot of good progress in that discussion, which is a very complex one, because we need a shareholders’ agreement, we have to satisfy laws, [we need to] secure antitrust approval, and we have a lot of discussions with communities,” he said.

“So, we’ve been doing a lot of work; I’ve spent my last two weekends in Atacama in different discussions and conversations with communities,” he added.

Pacheco noted that Codelco was still researching and evaluating the possibilities for Tarar, the third salt flat that it fully owns, prior to defining the best way to develop the lithium project.

“Our plate is quite full in terms of lithium projects, therefore we will be disciplined in keeping very focused on these three fronts,” he said.

Codelco plans to concentrate on lithium mining and will not go further downstream into mid-tier processing, Pacheco said.

“We expect to be a leader in copper as well as in lithium, and by doing so, be recognized as a company which has a significant role in the energy transition,” he added.

The goal of Chile’s national strategy is to boost the country’s lithium production, which is expected to rise by 20% year on year to 270,000 tonnes in 2024 from 225,000 tonnes, according to Fastmarkets’ analyst Jordan Roberts. Low production costs in the country mean producers have been facing less pressure from the recent weakness in lithium prices.

Fastmarkets assessed lithium carbonate 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price ddp Europe and ddp US and Canada at $13.50-15.00 per kg on April 11, both up by 3.64% from $13.00-14.50 per kg on April 4.

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