Mining industry doubts Mexico’s ability to mine lithium deposits
President López Obrador has pledged to nationalize the lithium deposits but Mexico’s ability to extract the sought-after metal is currently non-existent, according to the Mexican Chamber of Mines (Camimex).
Camimex President Jaime Gutiérrez Núñez told the newspaper Reforma that giving the state responsibility for lithium exploration and mining seems like a bad idea.
“We have to recognize that as a government we are not capable enough to do this. In addition, there is no certainty that there is sufficient lithium in the country to be exploited economically, ”he said.
Gutiérrez said Mexico lacks the technology to extract lithium from potential deposits. “We could get it, but we don’t have it now,” he said.
That hasn’t stopped Mexico’s geological survey from looking for lithium, known colloquially as “white gold” and “new oil.” It is investing 55.2 million pesos (US $ 2.7 million) in 2021 and 2022 to detect potential deposits.
But Gutiérrez accused the government “of having the slightest idea” of the investment needed to “really explore the lithium deposits”.
He noted that the government failed in its attempts 40 years ago to mine uranium through a state-owned company called Uramex.
Lithium, a key component of lithium-ion batteries used for green energy storage, is coveted for the role it can play in the clean energy transition. Mexico has large potential alkali metal reserves in Sonora and smaller potential deposits in states such as Baja California, San Luis Potosí and Zacatecas.
However, most of Mexico’s potential reserves lie in clay deposits that are technically difficult and expensive to mine.
Recognizing this, ruling Morena party said in June it no longer seeks to nationalize lithium mining and will instead encourage private investors to help develop Mexico’s potential to produce the ultralight metal.
But López Obrador sent a constitutional bill to Congress in October that would nationalize future lithium exploration. A vote on the bill, which would also reorganize the electricity market in favor of the state-owned Federal Electricity Commission, is expected in April.
López Obrador pledged this week that no additional concessions would be issued for lithium mining in Mexico.
However, companies with active lithium mining licenses, such as Chinese company Ganfeng Lithium, will not be affected by the nationalization plans, the government said. There is no certainty that reform will pass through Congress because Morena and her allies lack the qualified majority required to pass constitutional bills.
López Obrador said on Tuesday his government had a “plan B” if the bill was not passed by Congress, and sought to dispel doubts that Mexico’s lithium reserves would end up in foreign hands. He also said that a state lithium institute would be established.
“There is no doubt that [lithium] is a strategic mineral for the future development of the world, and we want to keep it in the hands of Mexicans, of the nation, ”said López Obrador.
With reports from La Jornada and Reforma