SQM (Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile S.A.) reached a long-term agreement to supply lithium products to LG Energy Solution (LGES). As pat of the agreement, which runs from 2021 to 2029, SQM will supply battery-grade lithium carbonmate and lithium hydroxide for the production of high-quality cathode materials for EV battery cells.
The contract considers a total of approximately 55,000 MT of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE).
The contract solidifies SQM’s position has a supplier of high-quality lithium for EV batteries.
SQM has been extracting lithium, in addition to potassium, from the brine of the Salar de Atacama for some 25 years. The Salar de Atacama extends over an area of approximately 80 by 50 kilometers; its nucleus consists of salt crust and brine.
To extract the lithium, the extremely saline brine is pumped from depths of 1.5 to 150 meters below surface through a pipeline system into extraction basins (ponds). For this purpose, SQM has set up numerous drilling sites distributed over the authorized areas in the Salar. In order to ensure that operations are as efficient as possible, SQM has developed a hydrogeological model which allows to project the behavior of the brine. The extraction basins are built with the salts left over from potassium and lithium production and lined with foil, hence no cement or concrete are required for this.
Lithium extraction requires a multi-stage evaporation and purification process, which is controlled by advanced modeling of the thermodynamic conditions. The brine is pumped into the neighboring basin after a defined time. This process, which extends over several basins, simplifies and optimizes the purification of the brine and the precipitation of salts and impurities.
The entire extraction process is completed after about 13 to 16 months. What remains is a highly concentrated brine containing up to 6% lithium or 30 to 35% lithium chloride. This is achieved solely under natural physical conditions, without the addition or use of any chemicals.
The lithium chloride solution is transported to the plant in Salar del Carmen near Antofagasta, where undesirable residual impurities, specifically boron and magnesium, are removed and the brine is then mixed with so-dium carbonate. Lithium carbonate precipitates in the process, which is then further washed, dried, compacted, sieved and micronized. Magnetic filters remove metallic particles. SQM has the capacity to convert lithium carbonate salts in-line to lithium hydroxide monohydrate, at the same facility.
SQM currently has the capacity to produce approximately 70,000 metric tons (MT) of lithium carbonate per year.