Multi-Billion-Dollar Offers Not Enough to Get Lithium Asset Owners to Bite for Mining Giants

USA News Group – Already in 2023 there have been two multibillion-dollar takeover bids rejected that would’ve involved critical battery metals assets. The first to go down was Liontown Resources turning down a US$3.6 billion offer from Albemarle Corporation (NYSE:ALB), followed by Teck Resources Limited (NYSE:TECK) (TSX:TECK-A) (TSX:TECK-B) rejecting a US$23.2 billion merger proposal from Glencore plc (OTC:GLNCY) (OTC:GLCNF). Meanwhile, mining giant Rio Tinto Group (NYSE:RIO) is rumored to be on the prowl for more lithium assets after already buying a lithium mine for $825 million in Argentina, in the same province (Salta) as Lithium South Development Corporation’s (TSXV:LIS) (OTC:LISMF) Hombre Muerto North Lithium project (HMN Li Project).

At this latter project, Lithium South Development Corporation (TSXV:LIS) (OTC:LISMF) recently completed the final drill hole of a resource expansion program, designed to expand upon the HMN Li Project’s maiden resource of 0.57 MT Li2CO3 equivalent (M+I) from 2019.

“We are pleased to have completed the 2022-2023 resource expansion program at the HMN Li Project,” said Lithium South’s President and CEO, Adrian F. C. Hobkirk. “We look forward to full results and the delineation of a new lithium resource.”

Throughout this 2023 resource program to date, Lithium South has received excellent lithium values from all holes completed to date. These included an average of samples of 663 mg/L Li, with a range of 320-752 mg/L Li, and ranging from 569 mg/L Li to 708 mg/L Li in another drill hole. The latest results also include nine packer samples collected between 24 and 189 meters, with a density range of 1.215 to 1.218 g/mL and a conductivity range of 196.3 to 209.5 mS/cm.

So far there’s been significant progress made on the HMN Li, as Lithium South completed a Preliminary Economic Assessment (PEA) in April 2019, expanded drilling efforts, and joined up with multiple experts in Direct Lithium Extraction (DLE) technology, to potentially increase the profitability of the project.

However, the original 2019 PEA assessment was based only the project’s original 383-hectares of claims (Tramo), whereas now the project covers 5,687 hectares spread across 9 mining concessions. Now the goal of Lithium South’s current expansion program is to not only increase the resource size, but also move closer towards a full Feasibility Study. The Project is already surrounded by two leading lithium producers, Livent and POSCO, which acquired the property from Galaxy Resources (now Allkem) for US$280 million.

With regards to testing the potential of DLE, Lithium South has provided three 2,000-liter bulk samples of high-quality HMN Li brine for testing by its three strategic partners: China’s Chemphys Chengdu, Argentina’s Eon Minerals, and California-based Lilac Solutions.

Located in the same Salta Province of Argentina, Rio Tinto Group (NYSE:RIO) completed its acquisition of the Rincon lithium project for $825 million back in May 2022.

“Rincon strengthens our battery materials business and positions Rio Tinto to meet the double-digit growth in demand for lithium over the next decade, at a time when supply is constrained,” said Jakob Stausholm, CEO of Rio Tinto. “We will be working with local communities, the Province of Salta and the Government of Argentina as we develop this project to the highest ESG standards.”

To optimise the process and recoveries, Rio Tinto continued to produce battery-grade lithium carbonate from raw brine from the existing pilot plant operating at site. Early construction activities have progressed on phase one camp facilities with rooms for 250 persons completed, while airstrip permits were received and contractors mobilised.

Detailed studies for the full scale operation have advanced, and Rio Tinto’s exploration campaign progressed to further understand Rincon’s basin and brine reservoir. The plan is to have the starter plant serve as a pilot for a much larger, 50,000-tonne/year plant there. As well, Rio Tinto has also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Ford Motor Company for delivery of lithium carbonate from the Rincon salar.

Lithium giant Albemarle Corporation (NYSE:ALB) currently sources its lithium production from several locations worldwide. However, Albemarle’s largest source of lithium production is from its operations in Chile, where it extracts lithium from the Salar de Atacama, one of the world’s largest and richest lithium brine deposits. While also having lithium production facilities in the USA, Australia, and China, it was recently rebuffed in an attempt to secure more lithium through the now-rejected US$3.7 billion takeover bid of Liontown Resources and its Kathleen Valley project slated for first production in mid-2024, located in Western Australia.

The Kathleen Valley project is among the world’s largest and highest-grade hard rock lithium deposits. Much like Rio Tinto, Liontown has also signed a supply agreement with Ford Motor Company.

The rejection by Liontown didn’t end Albemarle’s takeover attempts. In fact, Albemarle began canvassing Liontown’s shareholders, all while refusing to budge from its rejected $2.50 per share bid, which came at a 63% premium to the previously undisturbed price.

Teck Resources Limited (NYSE:TECK) (TSX:TECK-A) (TSX:TECK-B) rejected a lot more than Liontown did, when it turned down a US$23.2-billion merger proposal from Glencore plc (OTC:GLNCY) (OTC:GLCNF). It’s believed that Teck is unlikely to accept an improved proposal from Glencore due to the “significant value leakage” from merging with the large public coal company and the “elevated” regulatory risks involved. There’s also a patriotic aspect in play, as Teck is Canadian focused, while Glencore is Swiss-based.

“There’s more to all of this than what the share price would be in the offer because I think that Teck is a national champion for Canada,” said Patricia Mohr, an economist and former vice-president at the Bank of Nova Scotia. “There are benefits for the Canadian mining industry associated with this. I think it would, personally, be a pity if we lost another of our major international players in the mining industry.”

Late in 2022, Glencore had expressed its intent to add lithium to the suite of metals that it trades, citing the raw material’s hot demand. Glencore doesn’t own lithium mines but produces copper, nickel and cobalt, other raw materials that it terms “commodities of the future,” as they are needed to manufacture batteries, electric cars and renewable infrastructure that will help the world transition to a greener economy.


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