“Technological Strategy for Lithium in Chile”
Alta Ley Corporation, a Chilean think tank, set out in 2020 and 2021 to create a technological roadmap for the lithium industry. The study included workshops, round tables, and collaboration with experts from both the public and private sectors. Participants included Enami, SQM, National Mining Assocation, Codelco, University of Chile, Albermarle, and many other stakeholders.
From those discussions, a final report was recently released called “Technological Strategy for Lithium in Chile”. The document outlines the main gaps, challenges, and opportunities that the industry faces in matters such as productivity, new technologies, process improvements and sustainability. The report is meant to act as a “Roadmap” that provides a clear short to medium term plan to help guide the Chilean lithium industry through its next phase of growth.
We have provided a summary of the 90 page report to help companies and investors understand the findings of the researchers.
Chile – Lithium Production
- Chile’s reserves are estimated at around 10.5 million tons of contained lithium. The country ranks in first place world-wide for total reserves.
- Chile has the largest lithium reserves worldwide, however, its production volumes are proportionally low compared to other countries.
- In addition, Chile has the lowest ratio between annual production volume and total reserves among the leading countries.
- The main products produced in Chile is lithium carbonate and, to a lesser extent, lithium hydroxide and lithium chloride. These three products correspond to the main lithium compounds sold on the international market.
- Sociedad Química y Minera (SQM) and Albemarle, the only producing companies in Chile, have contracts with Corfo. Typically, they drill to depths greater than 30 meters, the hydraulic pumping of the brine is carried out, and then it is transferred to a system of solar evaporation ponds, previously waterproofed, where it is concentrated by evaporation.
- Chile has an advantage over its neighbors since the evaporation rates are much higher. It is estimated in the Salar de Atacama to be 3,200 mm/year compared to 2,300 mm/year in the Salar del Hombre Muerto, located in Argentina.
The group of experts defined the short-term (by 2025), medium-term (by 2030) and long-term (by 2035) goals for the Chilean Lithium Industry.
- Promote the introduction of new non-evaporitic technologies, which allow lithium recovery to be achieved over 90%, without the incorporation of chemicals, energy or water that affect the sustainability of its processes. Through incremental improvements to current processes, we are able to reduce lithium hydroxide production costs by 10%.
- Increase the efficiency of the current production process of lithium carbonate, increasing the current recovery by over 10%, optimizing the terms, costs and stages of the process.
- Enable a 100% traceable lithium industry in the most critical dimensions required by international markets, achieving responsible production certification in the associated standards.
- Pilot centers and test sites installed and enabled in the country for technology testing, and access to real samples of lithium brines, under real operating conditions.
- Diversify the production of lithium compounds, moving towards materials that are more demanding in terms of knowledge and technological capacity, such as metallic lithium.
- Validation of new technologies that allow a production process with 90% recovery of water from brine, either by improving the current evaporative process or by implementing new lithium extraction processes. This recovered water must be evaluated for its reinjection in the salt flat, if it is a proven sustainable alternative, or as a new water resource for industrial, agricultural or human consumption.
- Reduce by 40% the use of water or fresh water in production processes.
- Achieve to be a carbon neutral industry (GHG).
- To be producers of advanced materials in Chile for the energy and electromobility industries.
- To be the Latin American leader in the reuse of at least 50% of the total batteries collected.
- Increase lithium production through the sustainable exploitation of at least 2 additional salt flats to the Salar de Atacama.
- Lower the production cost of battery-grade lithium hydroxide by 20%, through the introduction of new technologies.
- Reduce the use of continental water or fresh water by 60%.
- Battery recycling industry installed in the country.
These roadmaps are particularly important for technology and service providers to help them understand the priorities of the industry and where their solutions can potentially add value. Next week we will cover the specific technological gaps that will need to be addressed to achieve the goals set out by the researchers.
For the full report you can find it here.
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