Rio Tinto Expands Lithium Production

Acquires Extraction Rights In Argentina

6 Jan 2022 by The Water Diplomat
LONDON, United Kingdom

Metals and mining corporation, Rio Tinto, has acquired the Rincon lithium brine mine in Argentina for $825 Million USD.

This acquisition follows Rio Tinto’s July 2021 $2.4 Billion USD investment in Serbia. The multinational, the second biggest mining group in the world, is following the recent trend of similar companies that have been trying to steer away from carbon-heavy activities and concentrating on commodities whose demand will greatly increase with the decarbonisation process of world’s economies.

Rincon is a large undeveloped lithium brine project located in the lithium triangle in the Salta Province of Argentina. The direct extraction technology proposed for the project has the potential to significantly increase lithium recoveries as compared to solar evaporation ponds. The company has not commented on the effects of this new technology on water consumption.

Lithium brine is mined in some of the driest areas of the world and its heavy water consumption has raised environmental concerns. A report produced by consultant company Roskill points out that 70% of lithium brine sites are in areas of high water risk

Lithium is a vital component of batteries and with the forecast of a steep increase in the sales of electric cars, the consumption of this compound is expected to rise from an annual 350.000 tonnes today to 3 million tonnes in 2030.

This prediction will drive demand for lithium levels that cannot be met by current mining projects. Rio Tinto predicts that even with planned expansions, current projects will only be able to provide 15% of the required lithium by 2050.

This, however, is at odds with environmentalist groups who have been denouncing the activity’s heavy water consumption and water pollution potential.