The South American country with the second largest lithium reserve in the world, desired by Bill Gates

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In an era of essential renewable energy production, the billionaire’s interest is focused on one of the world’s most important lithium deposits, with the exclusive purpose of innovating in its sustainable extraction.

Lithium, also known as ‘white gold’ , is the protagonist of a new era in electric mobility and renewable energy storage. In this sense, South America emerges as the region with the largest reserves, led in the world ranking by two nations, which take first and second place. In particular, one stands out for its vast reserves and its growing production capacity, which leads it to consolidate itself as the fourth producer in the world.

The second country with the largest lithium reserve in South America

Argentina, with its extensive salt flats in the Puna region, is home to the second-largest lithium reserve in the world, behind only another South American nation: Bolivia. This country’s importance in this market is supported by the so-called ‘Lithium Triangle’, a region shared with Chile and Bolivia. Together, they concentrate 85% of the global reserves of the resource.

Argentina alone owns 20 million tons of lithium, which has attracted the interest of more than one tycoon, such as Elon Musk and Bill Gates. Lithium positions Latin America in the eyes of the world due to its importance as a substitute for oil.

Argentina, the fourth-largest lithium producer in the world

Lithium production in Argentina is experiencing significant growth, which has positioned it as the fourth country with the world’s most significant mineral production. The achievement is due to the efficient use of its reserves, which are second in the world, and the implementation of innovative technologies in the extraction process. 2023 ended with a record lithium export in Argentina. The database specifies that in the first 10 months of last year, sales of US$682 million were made.

A key factor for progress in production is foreign investment, which is essential in introducing projects to expand productive capacity and promote more efficient and sustainable practices. According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Argentina is positioned as the country with the most significant number of initiatives linked to the development of lithium, thanks to its favourable regulatory framework towards international private investment.

Why is Bill Gates so interested in lithium from Argentina?

Bill Gates ‘ interest in Argentine lithium is no coincidence. Through his investment fund Breakthrough Energy Ventures and MIT’s The Engine, Gates seeks to support the development of more efficient and sustainable extraction technologies. The US$20 million investment in Lilac Solutions, a startup that promises to revolutionize lithium extraction, reflects a commitment to less invasive and more environmentally friendly methods.

Gates and his associates consider Argentina a crucial stage for innovation in the lithium sector, with the ability to positively influence global carbon footprint reduction. According to David Snydacker, director of the startup, the financing received will facilitate the application of advanced technology for lithium extraction from non-traditional sources, including oil fields and geothermal power plants.

This interest in Argentine lithium underlines its importance in the global market and highlights its potential to lead the energy transition. The combination of vast reserves, growing production capacity, and the backing of renowned investors such as Bill Gates positions Argentina as a critical player in the future of clean energy and electric mobility.

Importance and problems of lithium in Argentina

Argentina is one of the most important countries in the global panorama of lithium production , a light metal highly valued for its use in rechargeable batteries, electronics, electric vehicles and other energy storage applications. The country is part of the so-called Lithium Triangle, along with Bolivia and Chile , which together have a large part of the world’s reserves of this resource.

The South American country has significant lithium reserves, mainly located in salt flats in its northwest region, in the provinces of Jujuy, Salta, and Catamarca. These salt flats are vast depressions where salts rich in lithium accumulate, due to volcanic activity and geological processes over thousands of years. Among the most notable are the Salar del Hombre Muerto, the Salar de Olaroz, and the Salar de Cauchari.

Lithium extraction in Argentina is mainly carried out through the solar evaporation method. This process involves pumping lithium-rich brine underground into large evaporation pools, where the sun and wind evaporate the water, leaving behind lithium concentrates that are then processed to produce lithium carbonate and other lithium compounds. This method is cheaper and faster than traditional mining but poses environmental challenges, such as intensive water use in arid regions.

Given the growing global demand for lithium, Argentina’s lithium sector has attracted significant investments from national and international companies. The Argentine government has implemented policies to encourage lithium exploration and exploitation, including agreements with foreign companies and measures to improve mining infrastructure and regulations.

Concerns exist regarding the environmental and social impact of lithium extraction, especially due to the use of water resources in arid areas and its effect on local communities. Efforts are ongoing to develop more sustainable extraction methods that seek to minimize these negative impacts.

The 5 countries with the largest lithium reserves in the world

  1. Bolivia: 21,000,000 tons
  2. Argentina: 20,000,000 tons
  3. Chile: 11,000,000 tons
  4. Australia: 7,900,000 tons
  5. China: 6,800,000 tons

How is lithium extracted from the ground?

Lithium extraction is carried out through three types of deposits: pegmatites, brines, and sedimentary rocks. Brine deposits constitute approximately 66% of global lithium resources, and they are located mainly in the saline basins of Chile, Argentina, China, and Tibet.

Which countries export the most lithium in the world?

Chile, Australia and Argentina lead the production and export of lithium worldwide. Australia tops the list with significant production, closely followed by Chile, which takes advantage of its salt flats in the Atacama Desert, according to the source cited.

Argentina also plays an important role, especially in the Puna region. These countries have positioned themselves strategically in the market, taking advantage of the growing demand and technological advances in lithium extraction and processing. The list of the countries that export the most lithium:

  • Chile: 9,300,000 tons
  • Australia: 6,200,000 tons
  • Argentina: 2,700,000 tons
  • China: 2,000,000 tons
  • United States: 1,000,000 tons
  • Canada: 930,000 tons
  • Zimbabwe: 310,000 tons
  • Brazil: 250,000 tons
  • Portugal: 60,000 tons.

Why is Elon Musk so interested in South American lithium?

In a recent interview by Javier Milei, president of the Republic of Argentina, with Mirtha Legrand, he assured that Elon Musk “is extremely interested in lithium” and that “the United States Government and many companies” are interested in acquiring Argentine lithium. The magnate and the Argentine president have had a close relationship since the libertarian’s triumph. ADVERTISING

Tesla plans to start producing enough lithium for approximately one million electric vehicles by 2025 at a new facility being built in Texas, as announced by Elon Musk, the company’s CEO.

The company has begun construction of a lithium refining plant to guarantee the supply of this essential component for batteries, which is crucial to achieving its sales goal of electric vehicles. Musk indicated that Tesla aims to complete the plant’s construction in 2024 and reach full production capacity about a year later.

What are the characteristics of lithium?

Symbol and atomic number: Its symbol is Li, and its atomic number is 3, which means it has three protons in its nucleus.

Location in the periodic table: It belongs to the group of alkali metals, group 1 of the periodic table of elements.

Physical properties: It is the lightest and least dense metal solid at room temperature, with an approximate density of 0.534 g/cm³.
It has a low melting point (180.54 °C) and a relatively low boiling point for a metal (1342 °C). It is soft and silvery white.

Chemical properties: it is highly reactive and never found free in nature, but it is always combined with other compound elements. It reacts vigorously with water to form lithium hydroxide (LiOH) and hydrogen gas (H₂), a reaction that can be dangerously exothermic. It reacts with air, particularly nitrogen, to form lithium nitride (Li₃N).

Uses and Applications: Lithium is widely used in rechargeable batteries for electronic devices, electric vehicles, and energy storage due to its high energy storage capacity per unit mass. In industry, it improves the properties of heat-conducting alloys, glass, and ceramics. It also has applications in medicine, particularly in the treatment of bipolar disorder, due to its ability to stabilize mood.

Presence in nature and production: Lithium is found mainly as minerals in rocks and in salt lake brines. Countries with large lithium reserves include Chile, Australia, Argentina, and China. Lithium can be extracted from these natural resources by hard rock mining or by evaporation of aqueous brines.

Environmental impact and sustainability: Lithium extraction and processing pose ecological challenges, including using large volumes of water, especially in arid areas, and the impact on local ecosystems. There is growing interest in developing more sustainable and efficient methods for lithium production and recycling lithium batteries to reduce the demand for natural resources.

Source: La Republica


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