SANTIAGO (Reuters) – With the global race to secure lithium heating up in 2016, Chile’s president Michelle Bachelet wanted to be sure her country seized the moment. Home to half the world’s lithium reserves, Chile tapping its state-run miner Codelco to ramp up production seemed a sure bet.
Chile’s most trusted public enterprise, she said, could hunt for private partners to help it mine its own lithium for the good of all Chileans, and take part in the global boom for the battery metal used to power electric vehicles. A review of regulatory filings, court documents and interviews with Codelco officials shows the strategy was deeply troubled from the start. Dwindling support inside Codelco to prioritize lithium projects over copper, company insiders said, was compounded by legal and regulatory hurdles that stalled development of the company’s two flagship salt flats known as Pedernales and Maricunga.
Codelco - Projects - Supply - Prices - Forecasts
Codelco’s projects, once thought a shoo-in to boost global supply and lower prices, have largely fallen off forecasts, and Chile has ceded its position as the world’s top producer of lithium to Australia.
The stagnation means lithium supply from Chile, the world’s second largest producer of the white metal, will hinge on the water-constrained Atacama salt flat, home to privately held top producers SQM and Albemarle. Authorities are weighing water conservation measures at Atacama that could crimp Lithium output.
World - Copper - Miner - Codelco - Officials
As the world’s largest copper miner, Codelco officials told Reuters they felt they had to choose between two metals, and it was an easy decision. Any enthusiasm for former President Bachelet’s lithium drive fizzled once the center-right government of Sebastian Pinera took over from Bachelet last year, according to the Codelco officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to publicly discuss the projects.
Pinera’s government focused Codelco on its core Chilean copper assets and imposed an...
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