Rio Tinto secures lithium project in Argentina for $825m

Mining corporation, Rio Tinto, acquires the Rincon lithium project in Argentina, with plans to expand within the clean energy sector.

Rio Tinto is the second largest metals and mining corporation in the world, producing copper, diamonds, gold, uranium, and lithium. The company was founded in 1873, and now has over 45,000 employees.

The company has recently completed the acquisition of the Rincon lithium project in Argentina, for $825m, following the approval from Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB). A binding agreement to purchase the project from Rincon Mining was originally announced in December 2021.

The Rincon lithium project in Argentina

Rincon is a large undeveloped lithium brine project located in the heart of the lithium triangle in the Salta Province of Argentina, which is an emerging hub for greenfield projects. The project is a long life, scalable resource that is capable of producing battery grade lithium carbonate. Researchers have noted that the Argentinean asset has the potential to strengthen the company’s portfolio for the global clean energy transition.

The transition into a low carbon world offers a unique opportunity for Rio Tinto to expand, and to play an important role in tackling this global challenge. The company intends to switch to renewable energy, and to electrify their manufacturing processes to work across their entire value chain and accelerate the development of new technology.

“Rincon strengthens our battery materials business and positions Rio Tinto to meet the double-digit growth in demand for lithium over the next decade, at a time when supply is constrained,” commented Rio Tinto Chief Executive, Jakob Stausholm. “We will be working with local communities, the Province of Salta and the Government of Argentina as we develop this project to the highest ESG standards.”

Lithium mining

A July 2021 resource estimate of Rincon lists measured and indicated resources of lithium carbonate equivalent at 5.8 million tonnes, as well as inferred resources at just under 6 million tonnes.

The project has reserves of almost 2 million tonnes of contained lithium carbonate equivalent, which is sufficient for a 40-year mine life.

The direct lithium extraction technology proposed for the project has the potential to significantly increase lithium recoveries as compared to solar evaporation ponds. A pilot plant is currently being conducted at the site and further work will focus on continuing to optimise the process and recoveries.

The market fundamentals for battery grade lithium carbonate are strong, with lithium demand forecast to grow 25-35% per annum over the next decade with a significant supply demand deficit expected from the second half of this decade.

Rio Tinto estimates that committed lithium supply and capacity expansions will contribute only about 15% to demand growth over the 2020-2050 period. The remaining 85% would need to come from new projects.

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