Speedier, greener lithium may be nine years away, Codelco says

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Codelco, the copper giant that’s about to become a major lithium player, delivered some cautious guidance on the timing of a cleaner, faster way to extract the battery metal in northern Chile.

A week after signing contracts to take a majority stake in SQM’s sprawling brine operations on the Atacama salt flat, Codelco indicated that direct lithium extraction, or DLE, probably wouldn’t be introduced there for another nine years — and only as a complement to the current evaporation method.

“I imagine that around 2033 we are going to have direct extraction — and not in the entirety,” chairman Maximo Pacheco told reporters in Santiago on Thursday.

His comments will pour some cold water on the notion of a swift roll-out of technologies that offer cheaper, faster and greener ways to extract lithium in South America, which holds about half of the world’s reserves. DLE proponents include Chile’s government, which is looking to ease the environmental concerns of local communities and investors given all the water that is lost in the current evaporation process that can take more than a year.

To be sure, Pacheco said SQM’s testing of DLE was delivering promising results. But the new partnership will have to navigate multiple steps — from conceptual engineering, to environmental approvals and commercial implementation.

(By James Attwood)

Read More: Codelco targets 2030 start at Maricunga lithium project


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