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Saudi Ma'aden has extracted lithium from seawater, CEO says

Ma'aden CEO Robert Wilt

Ma'aden CEO Robert Wilt

22nd May 2024

By: Reuters

  

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RIYADH - Saudi Arabian Mining Company Ma'aden has successfully extracted lithium from seawater, although not at levels that are commercially viable and its project remains at the pilot stage, its CEO told Reuters on Tuesday.

"We are actually producing lithium from seawater now," Robert Wilt said, without giving further details.

Wilt, who is vice chairman of Manara Minerals, also said that company was not looking at acquiring diamond business De Beers. "We are not looking at De Beers at all," he said.

London-listed miner Anglo American has considered selling off its less profitable businesses like De Beers as it fends off BHP Group's $43-billion takeover offer.

"The kingdom does not need diamonds for its downstream development," Wilt said. "Manara's mandate is industrial metals that fuel the downstream growth."

Manara Minerals is a joint venture between Ma'aden and Saudi Arabia's $925-billion sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), to invest in mining assets abroad.

Ma'aden, the kingdom's flagship mining company, is 67% owned by the PIF.

The United States and China are locked in a race over acquiring access to lithium, a mineral key for electric car batteries, laptops and smartphones.

Saudi Arabia has joined the pack and hopes to use lithium to manufacture batteries for electric vehicles (EVs) as part of its ambitions to transform itself into an EV hub.

The kingdom's growing mining industry is a key pillar in de-facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman's Vision 2030 programme to diversify the economy away from oil dependency.

Saudi Arabia's national oil giant Aramco is also attempting to extract lithium from brine in its oilfields, although Wilt says Aramco's efforts are so far separate from Ma'aden's.

"We are both working parallel paths. Ma'aden on extracting lithium from seawater. Aramco from brines where lithium has higher concentration," he said.

"There are ongoing discussions about how we can join forces," he added.

While these projects remain in their early stages, Saudi Arabia is seeking to acquire lithium abroad, along with other critical minerals.

"We are looking overseas for interests in copper, lithium, iron-ore, and nickel," said Wilt.

Manara's first major venture abroad was to acquire a 10% stake in Brazil's $26-billion copper and nickel miner Vale Base Metals. Through Vale, Wilt said Manara had gained access to the Brazilian miner's operations in Canada and Indonesia. Manara is also in talks with other companies to open new ventures.

"We like things in East Asia through Africa, because we are potentially a centralized processing hub," he said, referring to Saudi Arabia's position in the supply chain.

Edited by Reuters

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