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Hunt for Lithium Sparks Frantic Rush Into Argentine Mountains

Looming shortage of lithium, key for electric vehicles, gives Argentina a chance to become a mining mecca.

Brine evaporation pools at a lithium mine project near Fiambala, Catamarca province, Argentina.
Brine evaporation pools at a lithium mine project near Fiambala, Catamarca province, Argentina.Photographer: Anita Pouchard Serra/Bloomberg
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At a lavish lunch this month in Buenos Aires, 400 mining executives and government officials gathered to toast Argentina’s natural resource riches amid the kind of corporate giddiness not seen since the country’s first attempt to develop its shale oil resources a decade ago.

The attraction for investors this time around is Argentina’s lithium. There’s a looming shortage of the rare metal, a key raw material in the batteries used in electric vehicles. Elon Musk signaled Tesla Inc. might get involved in mining to secure supplies. Chinese and US companies engaged in bidding wars for Argentina’s lithium resources, while Rio Tinto Group and Zijin Mining Group Co. are pouring more than a billion dollars into the country.