Exclusive-Chile’s Codelco targeting 2030 production for Maricunga lithium site -document

By Thomson Reuters Jun 6, 2024 | 12:47 PM

By Daina Beth Solomon

SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Rothschild & Co has formally started to assess candidates to partner with Chile’s state-run miner Codelco on a major new lithium project slated to begin production in 2030, according to documents seen by Reuters on Thursday.

A four-page “investment highlight” document from Codelco and Rothschild, dated June 2024, and accompanying memo, reveal new details of Codelco’s plans for the site, now dubbed “Project Paloma.”

Codelco aims to begin construction in early 2027 and launch production in early 2030. A first phase would include production of 20,000 metric tons of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE) a year via evaporation ponds at an initial capital cost of $1.2 billion.

A second phase will target 30,000 metric tons of LCE a year via direct lithium extraction (DLE), with initial capital cost of $1.1 billion.

The potential use of DLE, which has yet to work at commercial scale, is being evaluated for 2033, the document showed.

Codelco previously said it had hired Rothschild to lead the search for a partner and that it hoped to conclude the process by the first quarter next year, but did not disclose whether the effort had formally started, or how the bank would go about seeking interest in the project.

“Rothschild & Co is currently qualifying participants in the process and is inviting certain parties to review the information contained herein,” states the investment document.

It also calls the project a “unique opportunity to partner with Codelco in developing Chile’s next world-class lithium project.”

Chile is the world’s second-biggest lithium producer, with output from SQM and Albemarle of the battery metal needed for electric vehicles.

The government has tasked Codelco with spearheading efforts to boost its role in lithium production, and reached a milestone last week as the copper giant announced final plans for a tie-up with SQM in the Salar de Atacama from 2025 to 2060.

The Maricunga project represents a major new challenge as Codelco takes on lithium production virtually from scratch.

Despite Chilean President Gabriel Boric’s announcement last year that he would mandate the use of DLE, Codelco’s plans for a decade of traditional evaporation ponds in Maricunga suggests the technology is still far from production expectations laid out by Boric and industry leaders.

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon, additional reporting by Fabian Cambero and Ernest Scheyder; Editing by Veronica Brown and Nick Zieminski)