Sustainable Production


Our lithium extraction process in the Salar de Atacama is environmentally friendly and focuses on the sustainable development and production of lithium. By concentrating lithium solutions and depositing by saturation and gravity, without the use of external substances, eliminating most of the other elements and reaching an approximate concentration of 6% lithium, 30 times more concentrated than the extracted brine.

This stage of the process lasts more than a year, and most of the energy used corresponds to solar energy, approximately 95,8%. When lithium reaches the desired concentration, this solution is sent to the chemical plant located in the Salar del Carmen, on the outskirts of the city of Antofagasta, where lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide are produced.

To learn about our entire sustainable lithium extraction and production process at SQM, we invite you to read our report on sustainable lithium production in Chile.

Salar atacama lithium production process with solar energy


Committed to caring for the environment, respecting the ecosystem and biodiversity in the Salar de Atacama, at SQM we work on production processes under strict national and international standards. For this reason, one of the most important actions of the operation is to measure the impact that the company's lithium production has, both on the environment and on communities and areas of operation. This is the Life Cycle Analysis, an environmental management tool that objectively, methodically, systematically and scientifically analyzes the environmental impact generated by a process or product during its entire life cycle.

sustainability life cycle of lithium
lithium pools

Carbon footprint measurement is a crucial aspect for both our operations and our products. In the case of lithium, the process is measured under strict, demanding and prestigious international standards, under the ISO standards 14040 and 14044. For this, we retain the services of Swedish engineering firm Afry to measure three variables: energy use, water consumption, and CO2 from operations. The results are used  to assess  different processes at SQM's own operations and communicate them, as the case may be, to different stakeholders. The Life Cycle Assessment ISO 14040 and 14044 standards are used for the calculations in these studies.

Additionally, we collaborate with Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) using an open source model for emissions calculations known as GREET. This is used to measure the levels of CO2, energy and water consumption in order to keep our emissions up to date and controlled. This method is used to calculate our emissions contribution to the ithium ion battery value chain. This arrangement has a reputational advantage because the, laboratory belongs to the United States Department of Energy, which provides support and credibility to data resulting from its studies.


Power consumption graph

SQM's lithium production process has the lowest energy consumption compared to spodumene-based lithium production. This statement is based on the fact that during 2018 approximately half of the world's lithium production came from spodumene and the other half from brine, as is the case with SQM Lithium, and according to a life cycle analysis carried out by SQM and the consulting firm Afry, SQM is characterized by using low energy consumption in its lithium extraction and production processes.

Water consumption graph

According to the SQM Lithium Life Cycle Analysis provided by AFRY, the water footprint in brine production is significantly lower than in Australian refined hard rock (spodumene) production in China. For example, SQM requires approximately 22,5 liters of water per kilogram of lithium carbonate for the entire process if the water consumption of the supplied products (door to door) is not included. In the LCA, the water consumption was calculated by SQM (cradle to customer) according to ISO 14040 and 14044.

LCE LiOh Ratio Chart

During 2018, lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide produced from brine and spodumene were consumed almost in equal parts and, according to our estimates, we can say that only 1/3 of the total carbon footprint was generated by the production based on brine such as SQM Lithium. That means SQM's lithium has one of the lowest carbon footprints in the world.
* Afry SQM study (2018 world data). The comparison was made with Australian spodumeno, refined in China.

SQM Lithium Separator