Chilean regulator approves SQM’s $400 million lithium plant expansion plans

Chilean lithium miner SQM has received environmental approval for the expansion of its lithium carbonate production plant, which will allow the company to boost its output of the valuable battery metal.

Once completed, the US$400 million plant expansion will give Chinese-backed SQM the capacity to produce up to 180,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate a year from its Atacama salt flat operations in Chile.

This resembles a significant expansion on the firm’s current capacity of 70,000 tonnes, although SQM has previously stated it hopes to produce 120,000 tonnes annually by 2020.

Receiving approval from the local environmental regulator is also significant for SQM given recent growing concerns around water consumption in the Atacama Desert – the world’s driest.

However, SQM vice president Alejandro Bucher said in a statement that he believed the plant expansion approved on Thursday would contribute to sustainable development of the region.

“One of the most relevant benefits of this project is the optimisation of water use for production,” Bucher said.

SQM is currently the world’s second largest producer of lithium behind rival Atacama producer Albemarle. China’s Tianqi Lithium Corp controversially bought a stake in SQM last year.