Mexico could produce electric cars after finding lithium in Sonora

You may know that the existence of a lithium deposit in Sonora has just been confirmed, so electric cars could be produced in Mexico.

Mexico could produce electric cars after finding lithium in Sonora
Mexico could produce electric cars after finding lithium in Sonora. Image: Agencies.

The Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat), Victor Manuel Toledo, reported that after the discovery of the lithium deposit in Sonora, electric cars could be produced in Mexico. As you may know, the existence of a lithium deposit in Sonora has just been confirmed. Lithium will be the fuel, it is the fuel of the future, because it is the basis of accumulators and other instruments for the generation, in this case, of electric cars. Víctor Manuel Toledo, owner of Semarnat

When attending the presentation of Environmental Measures to Improve Air Quality in the Metropolitan Area of the Valley of Mexico, he reported that they would be developed by the public sector.

Therefore, we believe, and we have shared with Dr. Claudia Sheinbaum, the idea of starting to do applied research so that our country and, indeed, the public sector has the possibility in the medium term of generating Mexican electric cars created, by Mexican intelligence itself, with Mexican technology and with Mexican deposits". Victor Manuel Toledo, head of Semarnat.

The importance of lithium batteries

Lithium batteries, whose invention almost 50 years ago won three chemists the Nobel Prize, revolutionized mobility in society, but their composition and recycling have yet to evolve.

Compared to lead or nickel-metal hydride batteries, lithium batteries generate more energy, are lighter, and last longer. They are the "most powerful batteries that have ever existed," sums up Patrice Simon of the Electrochemical Energy Storage Network of the French research center CNRS.

The increase in energy is phenomenal compared to what was done 40 years ago. In a given volume, four to five times more energy can be stored. Patrick Bernard, a research director at Saft, is a specialist in energy storage applications.

What are the advantages?

Lithium-ion batteries are everywhere: phones and laptops, tablets, hearing aids, pacemakers, storage of electricity generated by solar panels, motorcycles, bicycles, and electric cars.

Thanks to its large storage capacity, this technology helps reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. In transport, its acceleration "is fantastic". In the electric bus sector, which is dominated by China, it is used mostly. Some trams use it for part of the journey.

The largest producers of lithium in 2018 were Australia (51,000 tons), followed by Chile (16,000), China (8,000), and Argentina (6,200).

Mexico's options to exploit the world's largest lithium field

Two months after the announcement of the discovery of the world's largest lithium deposit in Sonora, the Mexican government is still analyzing the best way to take advantage of the chemical used to make a cell phone, computer, and electric car batteries. However, the reserve estimated at 8.8 million tons of lithium carbonate resources can generate immense wealth for the country, so experts recommend accelerating its use.

According to the current Mining Law, the administration of Andrés Manuel López Obrador can work the deposit with its own resources or grant it to the private sector. But the president ruled out the latter option for the deposit, so the only viable alternative seems to be a collaboration between the government and private mining companies, which have reached 40% of the country's territory under concession, according to data from the presidency.

"The government doesn't have the technological capacity to exploit the lithium deposit, so the clearest option could be to create alliances with private companies to help it do so," says Pablo Gudiño, a mining specialist. Carles Canet, a researcher at UNAM's Institute of Geophysics agrees, and also points out that lithium is considered a strategic element due to its importance in the future of the energy sector.

Its main use is in the storage of electricity, especially for batteries in electronic devices, although it also has applications in the manufacture of ceramics, glass, oils, polymers, and pharmaceuticals.

What's the situation in Sonora?

The recently found deposit is considered the largest lithium deposit in the world, according to a study by Mining Technology. The company that has led the development of the project is Sonora Lithium, a joint venture between Britain's Bacanora Minerals, which owns 77.5%, and China's Ganfeng Lithium, which has the remaining percentage.

The bankable feasibility study for the La Ventana concession, which will represent 88% of the ore extracted from the project, estimates an initial mine life of 19 years, the study says, listing the 10 largest lithium mines in the world. In order to exploit the Mexican deposit, an open-pit operation must be carried out. So far, the project is divided into two stages.

The first would have an annual production capacity of 17,500 tons of lithium carbonate, and would require an investment of 450 million dollars to begin in 2022, says the study. While the second would double the production capacity to 35,000 tons per year.

But the rights to the deposit are not clear, as López Obrador himself acknowledged in his Jan. 22-morning press conference. Nor are there any records at the Mexican Geological Survey, according to a search by EL CEO. However, the project website states that "Bacanora has ten mining concession areas covering approximately 100,000 hectares in northeastern Sonora.

Insecurity, another obstacle

Another problem facing the Mexican government in establishing the country as one of the key players in the world's lithium industry is the insecurity that prevails in the northern states. "The outlook looks good for Mexico (but) security, as in the whole industry, not only in mining, is a problem we have to solve in the country," says Sergio Almazán, who for 15 years and until 2019 led the Mexican Chamber of Mining (Camimex).

Mining, which contributes 3.8% to the local GDP, has suffered from the onslaught of crime. Three months ago, a truck carrying doré bars (a semi-pure alloy of gold and silver) from a unit of the Fresnillo mining company was attacked by an armed commando. The lithium deposit is located a little more than 100 kilometers from the place wherein November 2019 three women and six children from a Mormon community were shot by alleged members of organized crime.

The size of the reserve in the Sonoran subsoil is similar to the reserves held by Bolivia or Chile, two of the world's leading producers. The global reserves total 62 million tons, of which more than 50% is shared by Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile, according to data from the U.S. Geological Survey.