Lithium: searching for the value chain

By Jonathan Castillo, Alta Ley Manager

It has been constantly collected by the press, has been present in the vast majority of mining debates in recent years and is increasingly marking the agenda of parliamentarians and government. Lithium undoubtedly lives up to its nickname «white gold»: the commercialization of the lithium-ion battery in the 1990s allowed the revolution to mobile telephony and to the smartphone and tablet industry in the late 2000s. Currently, lithium batteries remain key to energy storage, consumer electronics, and the global shift towards electric vehicles.

This new energy revolution implies a strategic challenge for our country; consolidate its position and move forward in the value chain. Chile has one of the largest lithium reserves, with 48% of the world total, and is the first country to process lithium from large-scale salt flats. Our potential as producers is enormous: only in the Atacama Salt Flats there are reserves estimated at 7.5 million tons of lithium – 40 million tons of Equivalent Lithium Carbonate – and we should triple our production in five years, reaching 250,000 tons of lithium carbonate on year 2022.

With an excess of natural resources, moving forward in all areas of the value chain and increasing production in a sustainable way is seen as a long-term challenge, moving forward in the development of cathodes of high energy density to ensure the availability of this strategic resource, and recycling to obtain a new source of lithium, creating products with an added value.

But having made the diagnosis, the question is, how do we continue? It is absolutely necessary to have the joint collaboration between the power of State and the private industry, with an active role of the public sector, to move forward in adding value in the production of lithium, upstream and downstream. It is also necessary to formulate measures and public policies that require adequate and optimal exploitation of this metal; The strengthening of the national R & D & I system and the establishment of a regulatory framework that offers incentives for the installation of an advanced manufacturing cluster of lithium products in Chile

In this context, Alta Ley Corporation is actively participating, representing the Consortium for the Development of the Institute of Clean Technologies (ASDIT) in the application for the Initiative promoted by CORFO for the creation of the Institute of Clean Technologies in the Antofagasta Region. It is a center aimed at generating new knowledge and R&D technologies applied to the lithium chain, and leading more sustainable and environmentally friendly research lines, which aim at non-evaporative extractive processes and the development of technologies that allow the recovery of evaporated water, allowing even extracting and recycling other valuable items.

Likewise, together with the Ministry of Mining, we are organizing a Lithium Seminar, to congregate the relevant actors of the ecosystem and promote a public-private leadership that leads our country to its rightfull position: a production center and at the same time an innovation and knowledge hub around this key mineral for the future for both the economy, and also for the planet.