Chile wants to have three or four new lithium projects operational by 2026, according to the nation’s Minister of Finance, Mario Marcel.

Last year, the South American country, the world’s largest producer of copper and second-largest producer of lithium, launched its National Strategy for Lithium. Under the strategy, the National Lithium Company was launched to expand production, and several public-private partnerships (PPPs) across the entire industrial cycle were encouraged. The state will retain a majority stake in projects deemed strategic for the country.

Marcel voiced his desire for the new lithium projects following a meeting with US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Saturday. On the same day, Yellen visited the premises of US lithium producer Albemarle in northern Chile and said that enhanced US-Chilean ties would benefit both countries in their respective energy transitions.

Albemarle and SQM are the only two lithium producers currently operating in Chile, with investors waiting for President Gabriel Boric to clarify what he means by seeking PPPs to develop the nation’s lithium salt flats.

Last week, Chile’s Minister of Mining Aurora Williams said the government hoped to finalise lithium exploration tenders in the first quarter of this year for private companies. She added that investors remained interested in new projects despite lithium prices falling by more than 40% since Boric announced the National Strategy for Lithium last April.

Williams said: “From the contacts we’ve had – visits, lobbies – we see that the interest remains. Beyond prices, the challenges the world faces in terms of energy transition and climate change are still pending.”

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Codelco, Chile’s state-owned copper mining company, will represent the Chilean state in the new public-private model for lithium that Boric has discussed, as the left-wing government looks to reignite a long dormant industry.

Rio Tinto Group, Tsingshan Holding Group, Tianqi Lithium and France’s Eramet are among a list of companies showing interest in the model.