As the world races to electrify and reduce carbon emissions, demand for the silvery-white alkali metal is skyrocketing.
Chile’s Atacama Desert hides a precious secret—salt flats packed with lithium, a key component in the batteries that power electric vehicles and other gamechanging green technologies. Striving to meet this demand, mining companies are converging on the “lithium triangle” spanning Chile, Argentina and Bolivia. Deposits are abundant, but extracting them sustainably remains a challenge. The possible impact of lithium production on the local environment and neighboring communities are relevant concerns that must be taken into consideration.
SQM, the world’s largest lithium producer by volume with more than 25 years of experience in lithium production in Chile’s Salar de Atacama region, has continuously improved production processes, adapted technologies and strengthened its cooperation with local communities in order to respond to those concerns.
As production scales, to support the planet’s transition to a low carbon mobility, pushing toward the highest standards of mining and transparency is fundamental. SQM has partnered with local communities to support social development and local employment in the region. Independent audits and an online environmental monitoring system hold SQM accountable for progress in reducing its ecological footprint.
Lithium demand will continue to rise as global vehicle fleets electrify, but the public will not accept negative tradeoffs. Ahead of COP28, José Miguel Berguño, senior VP of sustainability & corporate services at SQM, spoke with POLITICO Studio about the company’s commitment to balancing high lithium output with minimal environmental impact in Atacama’s salt flats, or the Salar de Atacama — and why sustainably sourced lithium is not only vital for global decarbonization, but also generating a positive impact for the surrounding region, its inhabitants and the nation.