Rio Tinto entered into a binding agreement to acquire the Rincon lithium project in Argentina from Rincon Mining, a company owned by funds managed by the private equity group Sentient Equity Partners, for $825 million. Rincon is a large, undeveloped lithium brine project located in the heart of the lithium triangle in the Salta Province of Argentina, an emerging hub for greenfield projects. The project is a long life, scaleable resource capable of producing battery-grade lithium carbonate.

Rio Tinto said it has the potential to have one of the lowest carbon footprints in the industry that can help deliver on Rio Tinto’s commitment to decarbonize its portfolio.

“This acquisition is strongly aligned with our strategy to prioritize growth capital in commodities that support decarbonization and to continue to deliver attractive returns to shareholders,” Rio Tinto Chief Executive Jakob Stausholm said. “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.”

The project is expected to be a long life, low-cost asset that will continue to build the strength of the battery materials portfolio, with the combined lithium assets spanning the U.S., Europe and South America, Stausholm said.

Once acquired by Rio Tinto, the Rincon project will be subject to the completion of studies to confirm the resource and define an Australasian Code for Reporting of Exploration Results, Mineral Resources and Ore Reserves, 2012 (JORC Code) compliant resource statement.

The direct lithium extraction technology proposed for the project has the potential to significantly increase lithium recoveries as compared to solar evaporation ponds. A pilot plant is currently running at the site and further work will focus on continuing to optimize the process and recoveries.

As the project is currently held through an Argentine branch of an Australian company, completion of the transaction is conditional upon approval by Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB). The transaction is expected to be completed in the first half of 2022.