Is the Sun About to Set on Desert Lithium Mining?

Automologist MAC brings our attention to what’s happening at the Atacama Salt Flats…all in the name of sustainability. 

Beauty or the Beast? Environmentalists are starting to doubt the long-term viability of lithium extraction, especially in Chile. So much has been made about the need to switch to cars powered by lithium-ion batteries, but increasingly the manufacturing of these very environment-saving batteries has been irking the hemp-trousers-wearing brigade of eco-warriors.

Cobalt had previously been the focus of those with doubts around Li-ion, but now the very lithium is causing concern and a group back by some of the Illuminati of the German auto industry has commenced an environmental impact study in Chile, the country that is currently the second-largest supplier of lithium globally.

The Germany Development Agency (aka GIZ) is researching how the pumping up of super-saturated lithium brine from the substrata below the Atacama Salt Flats is impacting the water supplies of the local communities. The study, which will take two years to complete, is amongst the latest efforts of allegedly environmentally friendly battery producers to allay growing concerns from investors and the general public over the long-term sustainability of the industry. Of course, Li-ion batteries are the cornerstone in the current global push against global warming and the clean energy transformation.

Presently, the reserves under the Atacama desert are thought to be the biggest in the world and the company behind the extraction, Albemarle Corporation, are trying to expand output to keep pace with global demand, which is expected to triple in the next decade. So, the practice of pumping up the brine for it to evaporate in large surface evaporation ponds is creating concern for fragile desert ecosystems and the water security of local communities. Let us not forget that the Atacama Salt Flats is one of the driest places on earth and is also home to some of the world’s largest copper mines that also compete for water use in the region.

Just to throw another spanner into the works, the study will kick off just as a new constitution is drafted, which is more protective of the environment and thus it may well be a difficult time for the Chilean mining industry in the near future.

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