Eramet in talks with European carmakers over Argentina lithium plan - CEO © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Brine pools used to extract lithium are seen next to a lithium mining camp at the Salar del Rincon salt flat, in Salta, Argentina August 12, 2021. REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian/File Photo

By Mathieu Rosemain

AIX-EN-PROVENCE, France (Reuters) – French mining group Eramet is in talks with several European carmakers over commercial agreements that would help the company finance its lithium production project in Argentina, Chief Executive Officer Christel Bories said.

The race for lithium, a key raw material used to make batteries for electric vehicles, is speeding up as rising tensions between the United States and China push Europe’s automakers to secure their own supply chain.

“We’re talking with a lot of OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers, or carmakers) today,” Bories told Reuters on Saturday at a business conference in the southeastern city of Aix-en-Provence, adding that these included French ones.

“We’re currently discussing potential commercial agreements,” she said, with reference to the group’s lithium project in Argentina, adding these involve joint marketing and so-called offtake accords, or commitments to buy a certain volume of the upcoming production.

Eramet is due to start lithium production next year in Argentina in partnership with Chinese steel group Tsingshan, and has said it is interested in studying other potential sites in a lithium-rich zone of South America that also includes Chile.

“We’re positioning ourselves (in Chile), we have discussions with state-owned companies,” Bories said, with the aim to gain potential lithium concessions “in the coming months.”

Two thirds of the world’s lithium reserves are located in South America, Bories said.

Demand for electric vehicles (EVs) has increased as climate-conscious consumers snap up cars with electric powertrains, amid soaring fuel prices.

Bories confirmed commodities group Glencore (OTC:) was among parties to have expressed interest in helping finance Eramet’s lithium production in Argentina.

She declined to elaborate further or give the names of the European carmakers involved in the talks.

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