Just recently, Tesla (NASDAQ:$TSLA), the electric vehicle company that has recently just been gaining public attention and popularity, visited the lithium-rich Salta province in Argentina. The goal of the visit was to discuss with government officials on investment in renewable energy around the region and the possibility of receiving supplies of lithium so that the company could meet its high production goals.
By 2018, Tesla wants to produce 500,000 electric vehicles; the majority of which is its popular Model 3 electric sedan. In addition to electric cars, the company is also looking to expand its solar-storage sector with plans to establish microgrids across various cities. Both of these projects will depend heavily on lithium-ion batteries, thus Tesla is in the process of building Gigafactories — battery plants that mass-produce these batteries. The company has about 4 to 5 gigafactories planned, including the Gigafactory 1.
The first of Telsa’s Gigafactories, Gigafactory 1, is currently Tesla’s most important project. Located in Nevada, United States, the factory’s goal is to produce 35GwH/year of lithium-ion cells by 2018 — twice as much as the world’s battery production combined, according to Tesla. Recently, the company stated that in order to meet this goal, they will be partnering with major mining companies as well as promising junior companies in order to ensure that they have enough materials supplied to make the batteries. One of the key materials is lithium.
Although Tesla already has supply arrangements in Chile, business reforms introduced by Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri and his new government has sparked Tesla’s interest in Argentina. The reforms include getting rid of the 5% mineral import tax, control of currency and capital, and restoring mining infrastructures. Of course, there is also the fact that Argentina is the world’s third-largest producer of lithium. Along with Chile and Bolivia, the inclusion of Argentina will make up what is the so-called “lithium triangle”.
As Tesla attempts to make the world transition from harmful fossil fuels to sustainable energy, companies are rushing to become lithium explorers and investors are looking for worthwhile lithium investments. With limited supplies and rising global demand due to new technologies and the electric vehicle industry, lithium prices are slowly on the rise.
While the major companies to look into when investing in lithium — Albermarle (NYSE:$ALB), FMC Corp (NYSE:$FMC) and Sociedad Quimica y Minera de Chile (NYSE:$SQM) — already have a presence in Argentina’s salars or salt flats, it is the growing junior lithium companies that investors should keep an eye out for as Tesla begins to talk deals with Argentina. Many of these junior companies have been investing in lithium assets in Argentina, and are now in the process of getting the finance to launch these projects. Below are some of the most promising junior lithium companies, if you are looking for some lithium investments to participate in.
Lithium Americas Corp. (TSX:$LAC)
With a 50/50 joint venture with Chilean company SQM, the world’s largest producer of lithium, Lithium Americas is developing the Cauchari-Olaroz lithium brine deposit in Argentina. With the technical expertise as well as its well-known local network, the development of this deposit definitely gives this upcoming company some edge in competition.
Already, the project has gained all the approvals it needs, is connected nicely to running infrastructure, and, on top of all that, has already secured its funding of US$286 million. Not only did it receive approval from the provincial government to begin construction, the company also reported positive results from the feasibility study that is stage 1 for the project. Construction is expected to begin before mid-2017 and production is expected to begin in 2019.
Lithium X Energy (TSXV:$LIX)
Similar to Lithium Americas, Lithium X’s major asset is also located in Argentina, in the Salta Province. The deposit is the Sal de Los Angeles, and currently the company is conducting a feasibility study to determine whether or not the area will be profitable for lithium mining. The study is expected to be completed by late 2017 — those in lithium investment are no doubt anticipating the results, as the junior company has claimed that the the metal could be of high-grade ore.
Lithium X is currently also developing another project, called the Arizaro project. The Arizaro project is the world’s largest, yet most unexplored, salt flat. However, the company has yet to determine the brine’s quantity and quality.
If the company’s promising potential projects isn’t enough to catch an investor’s eye, it should be noted that Lithium X currently has zero debt. The company has acquired an approach that moves its development in stages, and has partnered strategically to minimize capital requirements and lower execution risk. As well, the company was named one of the mining sector’s top performing companies in 2016 by TSX Venture 50.
Orocobre Limited (TSX:$ORL)
Australian junior mining company Orocobre is a pure play lithium miner. Unlike the two companies above, Orocobre is already producing lithium with its Salar de Olaroz project in Argentina in a partnership with Japanese trading company TTC (TYO:$8015). The company’s first commercial production of lithium happened in 2015, and since then it has upped production significantly. Recent earnings report from the company also saw a strong balance sheet, as well as an impressive 300% rise in lithium carbonate production.
Orocobre’s Salar de Olaroz project is known to be low-cost, yet produce high-quality lithium. With most junior mining companies still in exploration and development stages, Orocobre definitely stands out amongst the smaller companies as an already-active lithium producer. The company is also keeping up with development as well, developing another project in Cauchari, Argentina in a joint venture with Advantage Lithium (CVE:$AAL).
Neo Lithium Corp (TSXV:$NLC)
Already showing promise despite only being founded last year, Neo Lithium currently operates the Tres Quebradas, or the 3Q lithium brine project, in Argentina’s Catamarca province. The brine has been noted by the company as one of the lowest impurity brines; as such, Neo Lithium has secured about $25 million to fund the project.
The company has also recently finished the brine’s maiden resource estimate, and the results were positive. With a good grasp of knowledge of the brine, as well as positive results from its very early stages of study, a Preliminary Economic Assessment is looking like the next step for Neo Lithium regarding this project. If everything is on track, a feasibility study could begin by next year. Actual production, however, will still be a while away.
While Tesla’s renewed interest in Argentina is great news for many junior lithium mining companies, true gain for these companies won’t be happening for a while as it will be some time before the companies actually start producing the metal. Investors shouldn’t be fooled by the sudden jumps in these companies’ stocks; instead research thoroughly on the junior company’s future plans and projects before making an investment.
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