Coronavirus Constricts Lithium Supplier Livent

Lithium supplier Livent Corp. suspended operations at its two Argentinian facilities this week in accordance with a national mandatory quarantine aimed at containing the spread of Covid-19. Meanwhile, the company suspended all capital expansion work, including a lithium hydroxide project in the United States and a lithium carbonate project in Argentina, according to an announcement Monday.

The company is seeking an exemption to allow it to resume operations at its two facilities in Argentina. One is the Salar del Hombre Muerto lithium brine mine in Catamarca, and the other is the Guemes plant in Salta, which processes brine from Salar del Hombre Muerto into lithium chloride. Sodium chloride is one of the raw materials used to make performance lithium compounds, which are in demand for electric vehicle batteries, among other applications, and to make lithium soaps that thicken more than two-thirds of the world’s grease.

On March 19, Argentina’s government enacted an emergency decree ordering a national quarantine from March 20 through March 31. “Upon issuance of this government decree, Livent began the process of stopping operations and safely moving employees and contractors off the mountain where the Salar del Hombre Muerto is located,” Livent said in a news release, noting it was a multi-day process.

On March 20, the government issued a second decree allowing for certain exemptions to the quarantine. “Livent believes it qualifies for an exemption under this second decree and is working closely with provincial and federal authorities to be given an authorization that would allow operators to resume,” the company stated. “There is no certainty at this time that Livent will receive such an authorization.”

Livent also noted that it has elected to suspend all capital expansion work globally, citing the significant practical constraints resulting from actions taken by authorities around the world in response to the coronavirus pandemic. “Livent intends to restart these capital projects as soon as possible and remains committed to its long-term expansion plans,” the company said.

The company’s fourth quarter 2019 earnings presentation, released on Feb. 20, included updates on lithium carbonate capacity expansion in Argentina and a lithium hydroxide capacity expansion in the United States. The expansion project in Argentina included infrastructure that was under way this year and modular carbonate units due to be installed in early-2021.

Modular hydroxide units for the lithium hydroxide capacity expansion in the U.S. were under construction and scheduled to begin operating in mid-2021. According to Livent’s website, its Bessemer City, North Carolina manufacturing facility is its largest and most diverse, producing lithium hydroxide, among other products.

The company also has manufacturing facilities in several other locations: Bromborough, England; Telengana, India; and Zhangjiagang, China. In addition, a site Jiangsu, China, produces lithium hydroxide for Livent under toll manufacturing arrangement.

Photo: Matyas Rehak/Adobe Stock
Hills of salt at a salt extraction area at a salt plain where lithium is extracted. Lithium supplier Livent suspended operations at its two Argentinian facilities in accordance with a national mandatory quarantine aimed at containing the spread of Covid-19.