NeoLithium COO: Tres Quebradas project is ‘blessed with good chemistry’
Gabriel Pindar discusses the growing demand for lithium and the potential for NeoLithium’s Argentinian assetShow transcript
NeoLithium’s Tres Quebradas project was discovered just two years ago. It’s one of the last significant discoveries in the market – and also has the lowest impurities. This, COO Gabriel Pindar explains, means that NeoLithium can forecast low cost opex to extract and refine the lithium that the automotive industry is increasingly demanding. In the second half of this interview he also talks about why China is the leading market for lithium, and the regulator-led push for electric vehicles.
The New Economy: Gabriel, how significant is the demand for lithium today?
Gabriel Pindar: Well, as you probably know, the automotive industry is undergoing a massive change. So, they are going from diesel and petrol engines to more efficient electrical vehicles.
On top of that actually, the energy market is also looking more into lithium batteries, as they act as a buffer for solar panels, solar generation or wind generation. If you use big lithium batteries like the ones they have installed in Adelaide, for example, in Australia; you don’t need diesel backup generation.
All of that is exacerbating how much the market will need lithium in the future.
The New Economy: And what’s the potential for NeoLithium’s 3Q project?
Gabriel Pindar: The project was only discovered two years ago. So, this is one of the last discoveries – significant discoveries – in the market. Since then we have done two drilling campaigns, and the resource has more than doubled in the second drilling campaign, that was finished only a couple of months ago.
The size of our resource at the moment makes it number three or four in the world. So, if you consider how much lithium you will need into the future, it becomes very significant.
Our project is blessed with a very good chemistry. In South America you have brines. So, brines means that you have lithium dissolved in salt water. Now you have certain impurities within that resource, and the more impurities you have in your resource, the more expensive your opex: the more expensive it gets to clean up.
We’re blessed with a very clean product to start with. Our project has the lowest impurities in the market. So we can forecast that we’re going to be one of the lowest-cost producers in the market. So that is very significant, particularly for the investors.
The New Economy: Chile and Argentina are rich in these lithium deposits; why haven’t they been fully explored?
Gabriel Pindar: I wouldn’t say they haven’t been explored. The majority of the significant resources have already been found.
What happens is that, there was not a requirement. The demand was not there. So, big companies like Albemarle and SQM had the Atacama region; and there were a couple of other producers around them, and that was enough. The world didn’t need anymore.
Now with the electrification that is coming, the world will need probably four or five times more than what they can produce.
But still, even though you can explore a lot, you’re not going to be able to find more significant resources. The resources that we have at the moment for brines are the ones that exist. There will be very few new resources of significant size in the future.
The New Economy: Which means we have to make as effective use of these resources as possible; what expertise is NeoLithium bringing to this challenge?
Gabriel Pindar: So, for a junior company we have a very large team. So we have almost 100 professionals working with us. From geologists to hydrogeologists, to processing engineers to chemical engineers.
Our team has been working together for the last three years; and it’s the team that actually found a previous deposit. So, this is a new deposit, it’s a better quality resource, it’s proven to be larger now. We think we have the right team to get it into production.
We have listed a public company, we have received very strong support from institutionals and private investors. We have completed our pilot ponds, and we are completing our pilot plant now. In the next four to six weeks it should be up and running.
The next steps will be to validate the process and go into full feasibility, with the expectation of starting construction next year.
We would like to be in production by 2021, ramping up in 2022.
The New Economy: Gabriel, thank you very much.
Gabriel Pindar: Thank you very much Paul.