Mariana project area. (Image by International Lithium Corp.).
Ganfeng Lithium, China’s no.1 producer of the battery metal, and its subsidiary Litio Minera Argentina kicked off this week the construction phase of their Mariana lithium project, located in Argentina’s northwestern Salta province.
After breaking ground in Salta with local authorities on Monday, company representatives met later in the week with Argentinian president Alberto Fernández and relevant cabinet ministers, who said that the project should be considered a milestone for the province and the region.
The Mariana project sits on the Llullaillaco salt flat, which is less than 140 kilometres south of Chile’s Atacama salt flat, the largest producing lithium brine deposit in the world. This means that Ganfeng’s project shares some commonalities with existing brine operations in the Atacama Desert.
Both the Atacama and the Llullaillaco salt flats are located in the Puna region, which has some of the lowest recorded precipitation and highest evaporation rates in the world making this an ideal place for an efficient natural solar concentration process.
Based on a feasibility study completed in 2019, the Mariana project has a measured and indicated resource of 4,410,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate equivalent and an inferred resource of 786,000 tonnes of LCE. This makes it one of the biggest lithium deposits in the world, competing with Lithium America and Ganfeng’s Cauchari-Olaroz, Orocobre’s Olaroz, Advantage Lithium’s Cauchari and Lithium South’s Hombre Muerto projects. Once fully operational, total production should reach 20,000 tons of lithium chloride per year.
Following the 2021 approval of Litio Minera Argentina’s environmental impact report, the plan is to develop 1,700 hectares of evaporation ponds and two brine processing plants. The tanks will be built on the surface of the salt flat without using external input material.
According to Ganfeng, total investments for the project add up to $600 million. This sum includes the construction of an off-grid solar park with 120 MW of solar panels and 288 MWp of battery storage with a planned expansion to 150MW of solar panels and 360MWp of battery storage, all produced by the Chinese company.