Albemarle said it aims to expand its lithium operations in Chile’s Atacama salt flat as early as 2028 with direct lithium extraction (DLE) technology under a current government contract, reported Reuters.
“Depending on environmental and other permits needed in Chile, as well as scaling technologies, we believe [DLE] should be implemented, if everything goes well, towards 2028 or 2029,” Chilean manager Ignacio Mehech said.
Albemarle is one of only two lithium producers in Chile and currently extracts the metal using mass evaporation ponds from brine taken from underground reservoirs. Using DLE technology could preserve water tables by allowing brine to be reinjected underground after lithium is extracted.
Since water is scarce, the miner signed a deal with CRAMSA, a local company looking to build a desalination plant in northern Chile and infrastructure to bring desalinated water to the region.
“If more partners sign on, because our demand isn’t enough, we could secure desalinated water for the Atacama basin,” Mehech said, noting that Albemarle’s demands fulfill 500 of the 8,000 liters per second the company needs to supply the area.
When it comes to brine reinjection, Mehech said Albemarle secured environmental permits and plans to have a reinjection pilot program completed by the end of the year.
“With the results we generate from that pilot program, we’re going to start a second bigger pilot campaign to have more certainty about how reinjection should be done in the Atacama salt flat.”