SQM and Lithium in Chile
Santiago de Chile, waterfront center

History of Lithium in Chile

The history of SQM and lithium begins in 1996 when the company began to produce potassium nitrate, made from sodium nitrate and potassium chloride.

Sodium nitrate was obtained in large quantities from the caliche that abounds in the Atacama Desert, in northern Chile. However, potassium chloride was not produced in Chile and was purchased abroad, with Canada being the largest supplier.

The urgent need to have their own potassium chloride supply source led SQM's top executives to begin exploring the local market, where the solution was finally found in the Salar de Atacama, in northern Chile.

The North American company Amax and the Chilean Molymet tried to produce potassium, lithium and potassium sulfate in the territory without success; in 1992 both companies put out to tender their participation in the consortium called Minsal, becoming an opportunity for SQM. Thus, the percentage tendered was fully acquired by SQM and the company changed its name to SQM Salar.

Beginnings of Lithium in Chile

After the success achieved in the extraction of potassium chloride from the Salar de Atacama, company executives began to look at lithium, which in 1996 already presented an attractive international price for the operation. Taking advantage of the fact that the extracted brine had similar levels of potassium and lithium chloride, the decision was to produce lithium as a secondary product, which became increasingly important.

In those years, lithium had a sales growth close to 3% per year. It was used mainly to make lubricants, colorants and input to make glass or aluminum for construction.

However, given the great potential that the area had, different experts with experience in lithium were incorporated, and thus, in Salar del Carmen, the first plant was built to treat brines and transform them into lithium carbonate. The process involved considerably lower production costs than those of international competitors, considering that part of it was absorbed by the process to obtain potassium chloride.

In short, from 1994 to 2017, SQM has invested more than US$1.800 billion in the Salar de Atacama. However, the success of the company has been the way in which the investments were made and the technology that was used to have today one of the most advanced and sustainable lithium and potassium chloride plants in the world.

Full view from above, SQM Atacama facilities
Santiago de Chile, waterfront center


Lithium is a chemical element found in nature and used in a variety of applications, including rechargeable batteries, ceramics, glass, and aluminum alloys. The SQM Lithium company is one of the main lithium producers in the world and is dedicated to the extraction and production of this element for use in lithium-ion batteries, which are used in a wide range of electronic devices, from mobile phones even electric vehicles. In addition, lithium is used in the pharmaceutical industry to make medicines.

Lithium Benefits:

As for the benefits of lithium, it has been shown that it can improve the performance of batteries, allowing for longer charge durations and greater energy efficiency. Additionally, lithium is a lightweight and highly reactive element, making it ideal for use in electronic applications.

What are lithium ions?

Lithium ions are lithium atoms with a positive electrical charge due to the loss of one or more electrons. These ions are widely used in the manufacture of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, which are essential for portable electronic devices such as mobile phones, laptops and tablets, as well as electric vehicles.

At SQM Lithium we are dedicated to the extraction, sustainable production and sale of chemical and mineral products, including lithium ions. We extract lithium from the salt flats in northern Chile, where one of the largest lithium reserves in the world is located. We then process the lithium to produce different types of products, including lithium hydroxide and lithium carbonate, which are used by the battery industry to make lithium-ion cells. Our company, SQM Lithium, is one of the world's leading lithium producers and plays an important role in supplying lithium for the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries.

It is relevant to differentiate how and the ways in which lithium is extracted and the associated effects and impact on man and the environment. At SQM we rigorously align ourselves with different international standards in lithium production, by showing how lithium is extracted in a sustainable, ecological and socially responsible manner, respecting the communities and ecosystems of the area.

SQM Lithium Separator