Nationalization Of Lithium In Chile Sheds Light On Cutting-Edge Technology

A new crop of filtration technologies that hope to revolutionise how lithium is manufactured for the electric vehicle sector are coming to light as a result of Chilean President Gabriel Boric’s proposal to nationalise his nation’s enormous lithium industry.

Boric announced last Thursday that a new state-owned firm will try to reduce the environmental effects of lithium manufacturing by switching from the traditional method of using evaporation ponds to one of directly extracting the metal from brine.

Although neighbouring Bolivia, General Motors Co., Rio Tinto Ltd., and other businesses have placed their own DLE bets, Boric’s decision represents the largest vote of confidence in the commercially unproven set of technologies to date given plans to deploy it across Chile’s vast lithium reserves, the largest in the world.

“This is the best chance we have at transitioning to a sustainable and developed economy,” said Boric, a leftist 37-year-old elected in late 2021.

DLE methods use filters, membranes, ceramic beads, or other tools that can normally be stored in a small warehouse to extract the metal from salty brines in the Atacama Desert of Chile and elsewhere in the world.

The general promise of DLE is a rise to global lithium production with a footprint significantly smaller than open-pit mining and evaporation ponds, which are frequently the size of multiple football fields and unpopular with local residents. Nevertheless, several businesses are striving to produce competing versions.

Numerous DLE systems consume a lot of electricity and potable water. None have performed independent work on a commercial scale to date. Chile’s dominating position in the global lithium and EV sectors would be cemented for decades to come if Chile could assist one or more DLE technologies in succeeding.

“The devil is in the details, but it’s a great opportunity for technological innovation of brine processing, either way,” Chris Berry, an independent lithium industry consultant, said of Boric’s plan.

Evaporation ponds are used by Chile’s two current lithium producers, SQM and Albemarle Corp, to create the metal. Although neither has used DLE, they are both researching it. In Argentina, Livent Corp employs DLE technology in combination with evaporation ponds.

“Now that regulatory bodies are forcing the issue, it’s only going to speed up the innovation and commercialization,” said Teague Egan, CEO of privately held EnergyX, which is building a DLE test facility in northern Chile and has a development project with GM.

In a closed loop technique that doesn’t impact water tables, Boric and the DLE business want to extract lithium from brine and inject the leftover material back underground.

“Boric recognizes you can’t just evaporate all the water and wreck the geological structures,” said John Burba, who helped pioneer one DLE technology in the 1970s and is now CEO of International Battery Metals Ltd, which builds portable DLE plants.

DLE initiatives are also supported by Lake Resources NL, Vulcan Energy Resources Ltd, Renault SA, and Stellantis NV.

To implement Lilac’s DLE technology in Argentina, Lake Resources is collaborating with the Lilac Solutions Inc., which is supported by Bill Gates. According to CEO Dave Snydacker, Lilac also intends to set up a DLE test lab in Chile in the upcoming weeks.

“DLE is a great way for Chile to expand production in an environmentally friendly and scalable way,” said Snydacker.

In recent years, a number of well-known short sellers have claimed that Lilac and Standard Lithium Ltd.’s DLE technologies are ineffective, claims that both firms have vehemently refuted.

Despite the nationalisation intentions, DLE companies in Chile perceive a business opportunity given that Boric’s new state-run lithium corporation is anticipated to require technical assistance.

“Nationalization or not, they’ll require technology,” said Amanda Sanregret of privately held Summit Nanotech Corp, which earlier this month opened a Santiago office and DLE test facility.

(Adapted from

Categories: Creativity, Economy & Finance, Strategy, Sustainability

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