The world's second largest lithium producer, SQM in Chile, has announced new sustainable development plans including commitmet to the environment and sustainability of operations throughout its supply chain. Lithium production is water-use intensive and presents toxic risk to local communities and ecosystems.
The company produces lithium (a component in battery production) by pumping brine from below the surface of the Atacama desert and concentrating it in evaporation pools and process with other harmful chemicals. In Chile, the company is targeting to reduce groundwater consumption by 30 Percent (compared to 2019) by November 2020 and an additional 20 Percent by 2030. These objectives will be achieved through an investment of about $100 Million USD to incorporate seawater into operations.
As the major producer of lithium used in electric vehicle batteries, SQM has further committed to be carbon neutral in lithium, potassium chloride and iodine production by 2030 and in all products by 2040. To achieve this, SQM anticipates an investment of about $100 Million USD.
The company has also committed to reduce brine extraction by 20 Percent starting immediately with a goal to get to 50 Percent by 2030; again through investment in production techniques.
In 2019 the Atacama Indigenous Council filed a succesful, but subsequently appealed lawsuit demanding regulators scrap a $25 Million USD remediation plan developed by SQM after officials charged the miner with over- pumping lithium-rich brine from the salt flat.
“There is no trade-off between being cost-competitive and being leaders in sustainability,” chief executive Ricardo Ramos said in this week's statement. “These are commitments that we assume out of conviction and voluntarily.”
In addition to investments and operational upgrades, SQM has committed to working with indigenous communities to improve water sharing and to support education, culture, economic development and environmental protection.
Watch this space.