Wealth Minerals has entered into an agreement with the state-owned National Mining Company of Chile (ENAMI) to form a strategic alliance to develop and commercialize the company’s projects in the Salar de Atacama and Laguna Verde. The two will have 24 months to study and assess the properties and to form a joint-venture partnership for the exploration, development and mining, and for marketing the products, the company said.

“Not only are we now able to draw upon ENAMI’s experience and knowledge for successfully mining and processing resources in Chile, we have gained a strong state partner that can help fulfill our goals of full scale development to achieve production of lithium and byproducts in Chile,” said Hendrik van Alphen, Wealth’s CEO. “This will enable Wealth and ENAMI to meet the world’s growing demand for lithium and secure Chile’s position as a premier player in global lithium markets.”

Under current Chilean law, lithium cannot be exploited in Chile by regular mining concessions. The Chilean Mining Code establishes that lithium is a strategic mineral and expressly provides that the exploitation of “non-concessible” mineral substances, which includes lithium, can only be performed by the government of Chile, a Chilean state-owned company, or by means of administrative concessions or special operation contracts that meet the requirements and conditions set forth by the Chilean president.

Chile is the world’s second-largest lithium producer and the largest producer of lithium extracted from high quality and high concentration brines, accounting for approximately 35% of the total global production, representing 75,800 metric tons (mt) of lithium carbonate equivalent. Despite this significant footprint in the industry, lithium production in Chile comes exclusively from two operations in a claim owned by CORFO in the Atacama Salar. CORFO (Production Development Corp.), a government body responsible for regional development, has contracted production services to both Albemarle and Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile S.A. (SQM). Neither Albemarle nor SQM own the licenses through which they extract lithium, as both companies contract directly with CORFO and not the Chilean state.