The energy debate in Mexico has centered around lithium, a mineral used to make electric car batteries that López Obrador’s government has sealed off with a reform so only a public company can mine and market it without private interference.
The Federal President and his party, Morena, promoted this change in mining law after the rejection of the constitutional reform of the power grid, even party leader Mario Delgado spoke of turning Mexico into a “power” through the use of this light metal, which is increasing in price internationally.
However, experts urge caution because although the United States Geological Survey calculates that Mexico could have as much as 1.7 million tons of lithium, in the country where this mineral is mainly found clay, conditions that make its exploitation more complex than in other nations, where it is found in pegmatite rocks or in brines, a “liquid containing dissolved salts”.
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Extracting it with a state-owned company would require investing millions in technology (which the President himself acknowledges that Mexico does not yet have)assuming the risks of a mineral exploration process and the results would take years.
An example of the time that an extraction process takes is that of des the only active deposit in the country so far, is located in Bacadehuachi, Sonora. The company Bacanora, with Chinese and British capital, started studying and in 2010 by 2023 it plans to start producing the ore.
Another point on the subject is that organizations have pointed this out citizens, so far government-driven mining law reform is ‘limited’and by giving lithium a non-profit character, community activities can be crowded out to prioritize mining.
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“We see it as positive that the executive branch is trying to put an end to the expropriation of the territories and the privileges of the mining companies,” said the organizing group #CambiémoslaYa.
However, they added “(The reform) does not correct the offending content of the articles that made it possible to hand over territories on the private and the systematic violations of rights against peoples and communities”.
extraction projects in the country
According to the Comprehensive System on Mining Economy (SINEM), at least they are in Mexico at the moment about thirty projects or mining concessions for the production of lithiumawarded to foreign companies, particularly Canadians.
Most of them are still in the exploration phase, although according to a 2021 analysis by the organization GeoCumunes – a group dedicated to collaborative mapping of megaprojects and socio-ecological conflicts – only two were active, hinting at possible speculation.
In their study, they found that many of the companies with dormant projects were primarily controlled by small Canadian companies on the brink of bankruptcy that “rely on the speculative process to generate resources on Canadian stock exchanges.”
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Óscar Irazaba of the UNAM Institute of Geology reports that although up to eight regions in the country where lithium may exist have been located, in states like Sonora, Zacatecas and San Luis Potosí, So far there is only one deposit where it is certain that this mineral exists and can also be mined.
This is the aforementioned site in Bacadéhuachi, Sonora. First, Irazaba recalls, the 2019 report that the site held up to 243 million tons of lithium caused an impact, so there was talk that it would be one of the largest deposits in the world.
However, it was later clarified that this figure referred to tons of stone or clay, and so on only 0.3% was the desired mineral.
Regarding the concessions granted to foreign mining companies to explore and produce lithium in previous six-year terms, President López Obrador said the contracts would be reviewed, although the approved reform did not provide for their termination.
Rigoberto García, researcher at the Colegio de la Frontera Norte, recalls that Argentina, Chile and Bolivia are the countries of the so-called “lithium triangle” due to their large amount of reserves of this mineral.
And the Bolivian case where, according to the United States Geological Survey, up to 21 million tons of lithium are located, shows how complex the mining process is.
In that country, authorities have spent a decade discussing any economic benefits the mineral could bring them, but they have struggled to consolidate a large-scale mining program.
Among other things, due to the lack of technology and experience in this type of mining activity, which makes one think of the situation in Mexico.
From García’s point of view, the country has potential and could not only extract lithium and then sell it to other countries, but also develop the capacity to process it and insert it into an energy transition policy by capitalizing on the fact that lithium is used for energy storage in the wind and sun.
“We should see which part of the lithium value chain we can fit into. Pfrom focusing on extractive industries to manufacturing batteries“, he clarifies.
However, all of this requires long-term planning and budgeting, deciding whether to invest large public funds in this task, rather than allocating them to health or education.
“Are we going to extract it? Very good, then you have to invest”mentioned.
Both García and Irazaba agree that calling lithium “white gold” is disproportionate and believe it will completely transform the country’s energy landscape on its own. They point out that it may be important, but Mexico is still in the early stages of its use.
In terms of impact in a country GeoCommons warns that lithium may be a mirage of the energy transition because “it would mean the use of new inputs before the possible exhaustion of others”, and uncontrolled mining activities to search for them can impact communities and their use of water resources.