Rio Tinto expands lithium focus with $825 million brine acquisition in Argentina

Rio Tinto has agreed to buy the Rincon brine project, located in the heart of the South America’s renowned lithium triangle in Argentina’s Salta Province, in a deal worth US$825 million.

The world’s second largest mining company said the deal demonstrates its commitment to build its battery materials business and strengthens its exposure to materials deemed crucial for the global energy transition.

Rincon is a large undeveloped lithium brine project that will use a direct, low-cost extraction technology that could provide ‘potential to significantly increase lithium recoveries’ compared to solar evaporation ponds, Rio said.

A pilot plant has been running at the site by Rincon Mining, the company which has developed the project and technology since 2009. The novel method allows for extraction of the battery metal from raw brine in under 24 hours.

Rio said the project has the potential to have one of the lowest carbon footprints in the industry and can help deliver on the mining giant’s commitment to decarbonise its portfolio.

With analysts warning of an ‘imminent’ and ‘significant’ supply gap in the lithium market as the burgeoning electric vehicle market boosts demand, Rio estimates that committed supply and capacity expansions will contribute only about 15% to demand growth over the 2020-2050 period. The remaining 85% would need to come from new projects.

“The Rincon project holds the potential to deliver a significant new supply of battery-grade lithium carbonate, to capture the opportunity offered by the rising demand driven by the global energy transition,” said Rio CEO Jakob Stausholm.