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Chile's Codelco to explore Maricunga lithium claims

Santiago — Chile's Codelco is seeking authorization to explore its mineral claims on the Salar de Maricunga, in the latest move to expand lithium production in the country.

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In a statement Friday, the state-owned mining company said it will seek to estimate the potential for lithium resource in the Salar, carrying out the first drilling at the site.

The investigation into the mineral-rich brines, lying beneath the crust of the salt-flat, is expected to take six to eight months of fieldwork and will allow Codelco to decide whether to continue advancing the project.

Chile is one of the world's largest producers of lithium and the giant Atacama salt-flat, exploited by Albemarle Corp. and SQM, is considered one of the richest reserves of the mineral.

Both the companies are investing to boost production to meet growing demand from electric vehicles.

However, Chile has lost ground in the global lithium market in recent years, as constitutional restrictions reserving lithium production for the state has pushed investors to develop mines in Argentina and Australia instead.

Under a new lithium policy published four years ago, the Chilean government plans to boost lithium production by directing its state-owned mining companies Codelco and ENAMI to develop their claims over salt-flats in the arid north of the country.

In 2018, the government granted Codelco special permits over the whole of the Salar de Maricunga, considered as the country's second richest lithium deposit behind the Salar de Atacama.

The world's largest mining company last year entered talks with privately-owned Minera Salar Blanco to form a joint venture exploiting claims held by both the companies on the Salar.

MSB, which has environmental approval to produce 20,000 mt/year of lithium carbonate equivalent from its claims, said at the time that production could begin as early as 2021.

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