MEXICO CITY — A potentially vast lithium deposit in Mexico’s northern Sonora state could be worth as much as 12 trillion Mexican pesos ($602 billion), according to a recent finance ministry report, or over a third of the country’s projected economic output this year.
Mexico hopes its reserves of the key battery component will help it benefit from a global shift toward electric vehicle production that has turbo-charged demand, but experts are skeptical it will be able to quickly mobilize its industry.
Lithium prices have soared to surpass $70,000 per tonne this year.
While the ultra-light white metal is typically extracted from rock or brine deposits, lithium in Sonora is mostly trapped in clay soils, from which it has not yet been mined on a commercial scale.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has urged the private sector to work with the new state miner, saying the size of the investment needed means the government needs partners.
But analysts argue that companies are more likely to focus near-term investments in Chile or Argentina’s sprawling salt flats, where industries are more established and policies more market-friendly.
The massive projected lithium demand should, however, eventually draw interest to Mexico, they added.
“We have a product which can define what will happen with the world’s energy,” Bolivia’s Mexico ambassador Jose Crespo said in a statement published on Thursday.
Mexican newspaper La Jornada reported the government’s lithium valuation earlier on Thursday.
Though Mexico does not currently produce the metal, the finance ministry estimated the Sonora reserves could add some 0.3 percentage points to potential GDP in the medium-term. ($1 = 19.9400 Mexican pesos) (Reporting by Sarah Morland; Editing by David Alire Garcia and Sam Holmes)