Thailand hopes to start producing lithium from a mine in its southwest in about two years, government and business officials say.
The mine could help the country become a center for electric vehicle (EV) production.
Lithium is a metal critical to EV battery production.
Establishing lithium mines would put Thailand in a special position among major producers of the metal because the country is also developing an EV production industry. Chinese carmakers already promised to invest $1.44 billion in that industry in Thailand.
The Australian company Miner Pan Asia Metals is preparing to register for mining permits in March for the Reung Kiet project. The project is taking place in the country’s Phang-Nga area. The property could also include the proposed Bang I Tum mine.
Pan Asia’s leader Paul Lock told Reuters that the company is “optimistic” about starting lithium chemical production from Reung Kiet by early 2026.
Thailand’s Department of Primary Industries and Mines (DPIM) predicts that the Reung Kiet site could produce about 164,500 tonnes of the metal.
That would be enough to produce at least 1 million EV batteries of 50 kilowatt-hours, said DPIM Director General Aditad Vasinonta.
The official said mining could begin there in about two years.
And, Pan Asia’s Paul Lock says the mineral resources at Bang I Tum may be 10 to 70 percent larger than Reung Kiet.
Experts do not know how much reachable lithium exists in Thailand. Major suppliers of the metal include Australia, Argentina, Chile, and China.
Center of production
Thailand is Southeast Asia’s largest automobile producer and exporter. It wants EVs to account for 30 percent of its yearly automobile production by 2030.
Narit Therdsteerasukdi is Secretary General of the Thailand Board of Investment. He said the government has supported 38 battery production projects, including those for EV use, with total investment at $659.4 million.
"Our goal is to push Thailand to become the regional hub for battery production, both for EV and for energy storage," he said.
A regional hub is an important center of activity for a part of the world.
The Thai government is also pushing for lithium exploration in new areas. That includes changing laws to permit private companies to study agricultural lands, Aditad said.
One of the interested companies is Matsa Resources, an Australian miner looking for lithium in Thailand.
Matsa holds two special permits to look for lithium in Thailand. And it has over 100 requests waiting, it said in January.
"They will be only one of a handful of countries that have got the whole supply chain from mining to production within the same country," said Paul Poli, Matsa's leader.
The lithium under exploration in Thailand is found within a mineral known as lepidolite. It is more costly to process than the kind of lithium mined in Australia and Chile.
Matsa and Pan Asia said they are in discussions with Chinese companies to process the lepidolite mineral. Chinese companies have experience producing lithium from lepidolite in Jiangxi province.
I’m Gregory Stachel.
Devjyot Ghoshal and Panu Wongcha-um reported this story for Reuters. Gregory Stachel adapted it for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
battery – n. a device that is placed inside a machine (such as a clock, toy, or car) to supply it with electricity
optimistic – adj. having or showing hope for the future: expecting good things to happen
supply chain – n. a network of businesses that supply the materials and parts needed to provide people with products and goods