By Kylie Madry
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico’s state-run lithium company is examining a geothermal extraction method of the white metal, its Chief Executive Pablo Taddei said in a panel Wednesday, looking to complement the primary method of extracting the metal from clay-based deposits.
“We’re also exploring – and I think really great synergies are going to come out of this – the geothermal method,” Taddei said.
One potential area of exploration is the geothermal plant Cerro Prieto, which is run by the state energy utility company, in the state of Baja California, Taddei added.
Geothermal plants bring up a mineral-rich saline solution from under the ground, from which lithium can be extracted.
The alternative sees lithium extracted from clay deposits using a mineral acid solution which is heated, in a method experts say would likely be costly and intensive.
Amid growing demand for lithium in the race for electric vehicle batteries, Mexico last year nationalized the mineral and created the state-run LitioMx, or Litio Para Mexico.
Critics have said the industry’s nationalization will stifle private investment in the nascent industry. Taddei on Wednesday acknowledged that the company would examine “case by case” the opportunity to work with other parties, but did not name any.
He also declined to offer a timeline for the company’s initial projects, and said they would be defined in an upcoming work plan to be presented to the board, which is also led by government officials.
He added that a proposed mining reform, championed by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and currently in Congress, would codify best practices for the industry environmentally and in terms of water usage.
The proposal, which cuts across other metal industries including copper and steel, includes shortening mining concessions, and requiring miners to invest in local communities.
The country’s mining chamber has warned against the mining reform, saying it would cost up to $9 billion in lost investments and some 420,000 jobs.
(Reporting by Kylie Madry; Editing by Christopher Cushing)