SQM says brine reduction plan to cost $1.5 billion

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Chilean miner SQM, a major producer of lithium, projects it will need $1.5 billion to execute a plan to cut its extraction of brine in half by 2030, the company said in a statement Wednesday.

In 2020, SQM committed to a 50% reduction in the brine it pumps to mine lithium in the vast Atacama salt flat in northern Chilean.

In a statement, the mining company explained that its Salar Futuro plan will modernize its process of evaporation and brine extraction, improve operating yields and adopt the use of seawater via a desalination plant.

“In a first analysis, it is estimated that investments will be close to $1.5 billion,” the firm said.

Authorities have conducted multiple investigations into SQM’s brine usage, leading the company to propose a plan to reduce its impact.

The company said a planned desalination plant will provide water with high-saline concentration for its nitrate and iodine plants as well as water to replace freshwater lost through evaporation during the production process.

This will lead to a “totally neutral long-term water balance” and bring its net freshwater usage “to zero.”

Despite its reduced brine use, SQM projects an annual production of lithium carbonate equivalent of between 220,000 and 250,000 tonnes.

The Salar de Atacama is home to almost a quarter of the world’s current supply of lithium, a key ingredient in the batteries that power electric vehicles.

(By Fabian Cambero; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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