By: Elis Peralta
The challenges of the development of the lithium industry in Latin America, which together have more than half of the world’s lithium resources.
This lightweight metal is valuable because it drives the global electric vehicle revolution, but resource sovereignty, the metal’s water footprint, and recycling are major challenges.
The main challenge of lithium extraction is water in Latin America since approximately 37 million people lack access to drinking water, there are millions of people who do not have access to sanitation. The countries with the least access to drinking water in Latin America are: Haiti, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, among others
In Latin America, despite having about 31 percent of the world’s freshwater sources, it will be one of the regions most affected by climate change. The so-called “white gold” is key to tackling climate change in the transition to renewable energy, but its impacts on health, biodiversity and the environment “is something to be seen.”
Under the long-term situation that Latin America presents with the scarcity of water and the revolution in the lithium market, it is necessary to analyze that the extraction process is not the same as that of other minerals, said extraction process for each ton of mineral is eliminated via evaporation. about two million liters of water.
There is another technique for the extraction of lithium which is a direct way, a technology that has existed for decades in which the sterile brine is reinjected into the salt flats once the lithium has been extracted. This means that less water is removed during the extraction process. However, this method is more time consuming and expensive than the popular techniques used in the Lithium Triangle.
What is the lithium triangle and why is it called that?
The lithium triangle is made up of three Latin American countries Argentina, Chile and Bolivia According to experts, the triangle area contains lithium resources equivalent to the oil existing in Saudi Arabia and is considered a “strategic resource” due to its future projection because Lithium is an essential input for powering cell phones, computers, modern cars (hybrid and electric) and a wide range of technologies such as glass, ceramics, lubricating greases, in the pharmaceutical industry, among others, so that in recent years the area is strongly appreciated by both foreign and local countries and by mining companies and private and multinational companies, being studied today by local countries in order to know its true industrial potential
Lithium is transforming the ecosystems of the Andean Altiplano. Argentina, Bolivia and Chile are facing the same dilemma: take advantage of the “white gold” rush to create added value and industrialize without creating new environmental conflicts, which has never been easy. Defining the value of water with respect to lithium is deciding “which lives are worth more than others”.