SGM Will Define Process to Extract Lithium
The Mexican Geological Survey’s (SGM) eight-month exploration program has identified high-potential lithium areas. However, experts say more time is needed to study these deposits and create a process to extract lithium from clay, as the country lacks experience and technology.
Flor de Maria Harp, Director, SGM, announced that the US$2.7 million lithium exploration program is progressing at a good pace. To date, SGM has evaluated 66 of the 82 sites selected for study, in addition to identifying another 73 potential sites. In addition, SGM announced it has identified eight locations where lithium deposits could be favorably developed. These locations will be studied further and their selection will be announced later, said Harp.
Nevertheless, Harp explained the exploration program period is too short to really assess the potential of Mexico's lithium reserves. “Determining whether a site could become a mineral deposit could take between 10 and 15 years,” Harp said.
The long period of time needed to study lithium deposits is due to their complex composition in Mexico. According to experts, these deposits require technology and resources that the country does not have. In general, lithium can be found in rocks, brine, oil wells, geothermal fields, clay deposits and oceans. However, only brine and rocks have proven to be viable for extraction methods so far. In Mexico, most of the lithium reserves are in hard-to-extract clay deposits, which are very expensive and difficult to access, MBN reported.
“Mexico's only possible lithium source to go into production is a clay type. No country in the world has produced any lithium from such rocks at this time. The company investing in Sonora has published technical reports that state that lithium can be separated from clay and, in a second step, converted into lithium carbonate. The development of the mine and construction of a chemical plant will require over US$400 million in investment,” said Alatorre in an Expert Opinion piece.
Despite the difficulty of the deposits, SGM announced that it will start working to create a process to extract lithium from the clays in May 2022. SGM explained that it cannot use Bacanora Lithium’s process for its Sonora Lithium project, as this was created for a specific type of mineralization. Harp said that once the plan and process are defined, the government will build a processing plant, which will take around three to four years.
What is the Status of the Lithium Reform?
The future of Mexico’s lithium production is expected to be decided in the coming days as President López Obrador called on legislators to discuss and vote on the new energy reform proposal right away. The parliamentary coalition groups MORENA, PT and PVEM agreed to present the ruling on President López Obrador's electrical reform on April 11, hoping that the reform will be voted through sooner. The current legislative period ends April 30. However, MORENA wants to ensure the approval of the reform in both chambers before it ends.