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Wednesday, 12 December 2012
Lithium Americas gets final approval to construct its Cauchari-Olaroz project
Lithium Americas Corp. (TSE:LAC)(OTCQX:LHMAF) has snagged final project approval for the construction of its Cauchari-Olaroz lithium-potash project from the province of Jujuy, in Argentina.
On the recommendation of the "committee of experts", the Jujuy government has executed the final decree, through the joint resolution of the production minister and secretary to the government.
The approval stretches to water use permitting, confirmation of mining licenses in good standing, environmental approval for lithium and potash production and alll other permits required to start construction.
The news today follows the company's announcement last month that it got approval for the construction of the project from the "committee of experts" in the province, which is tasked with assessing the impact and benefits to the province of any proposed lithium project.
"Lithium Americas is very proud of advancing the Cauchari-Olaroz project from discovery and exploration, through development, to fully permitted in just short of 4 years," saidLithium Americas president and CEO, Dr. Waldo Perez.
"We continue to receive an enormous level of support from multiple constituencies in Argentina. We have worked extremely hard to garner this support, which has served to accelerate the permitting and development of Cauchari-Olaroz, as well as further de-risk the project."
The company's CEO further said that with the permitting process now concluded, its next major milestone is securing project financing and off take agreements, which will allow it to start construction next year.
Lithium Americas has defined the world’s third largest lithium brine resource at its project, and completed a definitive feasibility study that identified an operating cost per tonne of lithium carbonate expected to be one of the lowest in the industry. The company snagged the environmental approvals for the property back in August.
The company has said the low operating cost and large brine reserves of the project compare "very favourably" to existing lithium carbonate producers, and suggest that the company has the potential to become one of the largest and lowest cost lithium operations in the world.
The property has proven and probable reserves sufficient to operate at a production rate of up to 40,000 tonnes per annum (TPA) of lithium carbonate for 40 years, and up to 80,000 TPA of potash, which would include an initial five year ramp-up period.
The company's plan is to build the project in two stages, with each stage consisting of a 20,000 TPA lithium carbonate facility and a 40,000 TPA potash facility.
The base case feasibility study estimated a pre-tax net present value, at an 8 per cent discount rate, of US$738 million and a pre-tax internal rate of return of 23 per cent.
Net cash operating costs per tonne of lithium carbonate are seen at US$1,332. Overall project revenue is projected at US$6.6 billion and project EBITDA is pegged at US$4.3 billion.
The company said last month that given the value of its project, it has received "several" new expressions of interest in financing the Argentinean property, on top of the off-take agreements it already has in place with Mitsubishi Corporation and Magna International.
In an effort to manage this, Lithium Americas created an executive committee to oversee the financing proposal process, and to manage discussions with strategic partners. The committee, which will include Dr. Perez and executive chairman Tom Hodgson, will be assisted by financial advisor Scotia Capital.
The company has an agreement with Jujuy Energia y Mineria Sociedad del Estado (JEMSE) - the government's mining investment company - which will see JEMSE acquire an 8.5 per cent stake in the project.
This will be in exchange for management expertise and services to help develop the asset, including liaising with the national customs authorities for the import of all necessary equipment and materials, as well as the export of products, and liaising with the authorities of Argentina's central bank to facilitate the import and export of currency, among other services.
JEMSE will be required to cover its pro rata share of the financing for the construction of the Cauchari-Olaroz project. The distribution of dividends to JEMSE and other shareholders in the project will only start once all annual commitments related to project debt financing are met, the company said.