Lithium Economics

Final Report of the National Lithium Commission of Chile

Feb 02, 2015

The National Lithium Commission of Chile appointed in May 2014 by President Michelle Bachelet in which I participated as an International Member culminated its work last Tuesday with presentation of its final report available only in Spanish.

The document consists of an introduction, four chapters (Diagnosis of Present Situation of Lithium; Strategic Vision for a National Lithium Policy; Suggestions for a Legal Framework; and Suggestions for Royalties and other Specific Charges for Use of Resources); a section on conclusions with major proposals for a Lithium Public Policy; and six Annexes (Detailed Diagnosis of the Lithium Commission; Chile’s alternatives to Increase Value Added of its Lithium Production; Position of Chile on the Construction of a National Lithium Policy; Legal Changes for the New Lithium Policy; Economic Aspects of the Lithium Market: Rent, Royalties and other Charges for Use of Resources; and Aspects of the Strategic Environmental Assessment).

I summarize below the section of conclusions:

1. It is found that the salt flats are dynamic ecosystems of great complexity and fragility, in which the component of primary interest is the brine, mainly containing lithium, potassium, boron and magnesium. The hydrogeological characteristics of brines and their compositional complexity determines that any intervention requires careful and necessarily integral handling of these.

2. Given its high potential for use in energy applications, the strategic character of lithium is reaffirmed and it is recommended to maintain its non-concessionable character because the existing mining concessions system is not suited to the particularity and complexity of exploitation of the salt flats. It is also recommended raising non-concessionability of lithium to constitutional status.

3. It calls for strengthening the role of the state as true owner of these resources, which defines the conditions and participates as a main player in their exploitation; maximizes and captures their economic rent with a long term perspective, allocating part of it to the development of scientific and production related linkages; and is initiator and guarantor of public-private partnerships that create added value to the country and greater social return on exploitation of the salt flats, protecting environmental sustainability and sustainability of projects.

4. The need to strengthen public institutions linked to the governance of the salt flats to act as a counterpart to the companies operating them, generating knowledge about them and proposing policies, taking into account all minerals found in the brines, is emphasized. Such institutions will define an integrated methodological framework that will ensure a better exploitation and management of salt flats and equip the State of greater regulatory and supervisory capacities along the entire value chain of lithium.

5. The creation of a state company dedicated to the exploitation of the salt flats, especially lithium, favoring a business model of public-private partnership basis, incorporating the shared value as guiding principle is considered necessary. In this context, mining properties currently owned by CORFO, CODELCO, ENAMI, be handed to the new company for management.

6. Mainly, the Commission recommends that the State, through this new company has a controller role in all projects operating salt mines developed in the country, although a group of commissioners believes that the future board of directors of the new company should define the public-private partnership model in each contract ensuring the maximization of benefits for the country and their sustainability.

7. Policies to encourage research and technological development of ways to extract lithium and its multiple applications in areas such as development of production processes of lithium carbonate for the production of batteries and accumulators energy salts, both for the propulsion of vehicles and energy accumulation in plants of renewable energy (e.g. solar, photovoltaic and wind); generation of tritium for nuclear power applications; aluminum-lithium and lithium-magnesium alloys to produce high-strength lightweight materials; uses in the pharmaceutical industry; and possible synergy with nanotechnology must be generated.

8. It is proposed to generate and fortify a sectorial lithium cluster to strengthen research and innovation centers in association with universities and/or industry and public-private partnerships for exploitation of lithium that will generate knowledge, technologies, research and development.

9. Given the growth and enormous potential of Chile in solar power generation, synergies for energy storage by batteries and melted salts for concentrating solar plants salts should be sought, for which purpose it is recommended to conduct the necessary studies to link and measure the relationship between the market for solar energy and the lithium market, determining the contribution of lithium and identifying opportunities to add value.

10. It is proposed to design, along with CONICYT and CORFO, research and development programs to develop skills and knowledge within the lithium industry.

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