SANTIAGO--Chilean state copper giant Codelco is considering producing lithium either on its own or with a partner, board chairman Gerardo Jofre said Thursday.
Although Chile is the world's largest lithium producer, only two companies, Sociedad Quimica y Minera de Chile SA (SQM, SQM-B.SN) and Sociedad Chilena del Litio, a subsidiary of Rockwood Holdings Inc. (ROC), currently mine the mineral in the Andean nation.
As Chilean laws had classified the mineral as "strategic," no new lithium concessions have been issued since 1982.
The Chilean government is currently in the process of tendering lithium production contracts and Codelco is looking to participate in that process, Mr. Jofre and Mining Undersecretary Pablo Wagner said.
Mr. Wagner was recently in New York and Toronto as part of road show to drum up interest for Special Lithium Operations Contracts, or CEOLs by their Spanish abbreviation.
His next stop on the road show, Mr. Wagner said, was Codelco.
"The government is very interest for Codelco to participate in the lithium market either through CEOLs or through its own production," Mr. Wagner told reporters at the headquarters of the world's largest copper mining company.
Mr. Jofre, meanwhile, said the miner formally known as Corporacion Nacional del Cobre de Chile is exploring several lithium properties it already has.
He noted Codelco couldn't rule out seeking a partner to develop the metal used to make batteries for electronic devices.
"Chile is the leader in lithium production and in our opinion, it must retain its top spot," Mr. Jofre told reporters.
The global lithium market is relatively small, with some $800 million's worth of the metal sold a year.
Chile accounts for 41% of annual production and has 70% of the world's reserves.
But other nations such as Australia, Bolivia and Argentina, are increasing their lithium output and could quickly overtake Chile's pole position.
"If we don't do anything about it, we're going go from being the leader to being irrelevant," Mr. Wagner said.
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