Salar brines are located in the nucleus of the Salar de Atacama. They contain the greatest lithium and potassium concentrations ever known, in addition to considerable sulphate and boron concentrations. From this natural resource lithium carbonate, potassium chloride, potassium sulphate, boric acid and magnesium chloride are produced.
The Salar de Atacama is a source of underground salar brines, formed through natural leaching from the Andes Mountains: throughout time, diverse minerals found under the salt surface crust have descended from the mountains, accumulating in increasing concentrations.
Together with high concentrations of salar brines, the Salar de Atacama has a series of advantages: it enables low processing costs due to its reduced magnesium content; it has higher evaporation rates than other salt plains in the world and it is able to operate all year long due to the privileged weather conditions that favour it.
Salar brines are pumped from beneath the saline crust in two different areas of the salar. In one of them, extracted salar brines contain unprecedented concentration levels of potassium and lithium. In the other, salar brines obtained contain high concentrations of sulphate and boron.
After extraction, salar brines are located in SQM's solar evaporation ponds that cover 1,700 hectares approximately. Atacama Desert is the driest place on earth, with a solar evaporation index of 3,200 millimeters and average precipitations of only 15 millimeters per year. This results in an extremely efficient process of solar energy concentration.
From the resulting solutions and after a series of processes, SQM produces potassium chloride, lithium carbonate, potassium sulphate, boric acid and magnesium chloride.
Click here to learn some more about the productive process.
SQM also takes advantage of synergies: thus, it produces potassium nitrate by mixing the potassium chloride obtained from salar brines and sodium nitrate contained in the caliche.
If production levels are equivalent to current ones, confirmed reserves of the salar that belong to SQM, will last at least for 30 more years.