Chile’s national mining company, Codelco, is looking to select a partner for its lithium project in the Maricunga salt flat by the first quarter of 2024, reported Reuters, citing the company’s chairman Maximo Pacheco.

The move forms part of the company’s efforts to expand its lithium mining operations, a critical component of the green energy transition.

Codelco, traditionally a copper mining giant, has shifted its focus to lithium under the new directive from Chile President Gabriel Boric’s administration, which aims to enhance the state’s involvement in the lucrative lithium sector.

The project in Maricunga comes after Codelco recently increased its stake in the Maricunga salt flat to around 65% by acquiring Australian company Lithium Power International.

In an interview, Pacheco disclosed that Codelco has engaged Rothschild to identify potential partners until the end of the year.

The selected partner will receive a 49% stake in the project.

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Furthermore, Codelco is exploring a JV with SQM in the Atacama salt flat, which is known for its high lithium concentration.

The negotiations for the Atacama venture have faced challenges due to thorough due diligence and community concerns about water resources. Despite these issues, Pacheco is confident that the 31 May deadline will be met.

Pacheco mentioned that the winning partner for the project in Maricunga would not be required to present a direct lithium extraction strategy, a technology that offers an alternative to traditional evaporation methods.

At the CRU World Copper Conference, Pacheco also addressed Codelco’s investment of $4bn (3.94trn pesos) to enhance copper production, which has recently reached a 25-year low.

Earlier this year, Codelco and Aurubis formalised a cooperation agreement to advance sustainable copper production.