The President of Chile, Gabriel Boric Font, announced the National Lithium Strategy this Thursday on national television, broadcast from La Moneda Palace. The document presents the main points proposed by the government to take advantage of the mineral’s potential for Chile. Our country possesses 45% of global reserves and is the second largest producer in the world after Australia.
“In Chile today, lithium is only extracted in the Salar de Atacama and yet, even so, our country’s production represents more than 30% of the global market. The potential we have is enormous. In addition to the Salar de Atacama, there are more than 60 other salt flats and saline lakes. This policy, therefore, will also be a crusade to explore them, evaluate their extractive potential and, very importantly, also delimit the protected areas and lakes where operations will not be installed,” President Boric said in his speech, which was broadcast over national television on Thursday night.
Lithium is a key mineral in the fight against the climate crisis, as it is used in energy storage batteries, and electric cars and buses. As President Boric pointed out, it represents “an opportunity for economic growth that is unlikely to be repeated in the short term.” “Together with the development of green hydrogen and the knowledge that is generated in our universities and communities, it is the best chance we have of moving towards a more sustainable and developed economy. We cannot afford to waste it,” he stated.
Below, we present the eight key points in Chile’s new National Lithium Strategy:
1. Start a process of dialogue and participation with various stakeholders. This process will include representatives of local communities and indigenous peoples, regional government, academia, productive companies and civil society, as well as central government and other public bodies. It will allow various stakeholders to state their expectations and offer proposals regarding the industry’s development, always taking into account the area’s indigenous communities.
2. Create the National Lithium Company. The National Lithium Company will participate in the entire industrial cycle, from the registry of resources and extraction of the mineral, to its treatment, subsequent industrial stages - such as the assembly of battery cells - and recycling. It will be a state-owned company and will seek private partners for the sustainable development of exploration, extraction and value-addition projects. It will also encourage the development of technologies in all areas of the value chain, from extraction to applications and recycling.
3. Create a Protected Salt Flats Network, and also ensure the use of technologies with low environmental impact in salt flats that are already being exploited.
4. Modernize the institutional framework. An institutional modernization proposal will be put forward to support the development and growth of the industry, safeguarding the impact on the salt flats and providing stability for existing and new organizations, in accordance with the strategy’s objectives.
5. Create a Public Technological and Research Institute of Lithium and Salt Flats. An institute will be created whose central objective will be to generate knowledge and technologies to improve extraction, production, value addition, application and recycling processes. The institute will also improve our understanding of salt flats by constructing robust public ecosystem baseline models to minimize the impact of lithium extraction and processing operations.
6. Incorporate the State in the productive activity of the Salar de Atacama. Given that the private lease contract for a large part of the Salar de Atacama will end in 2030, Chile will be able to regain control of its lithium. The State-Owned Copped Company, CODELCO, will lead the search for the best ways for the Chilean State to immediately participate in lithium extraction in the Salar de Atacama. CODELCO will represent the State before the companies currently operating in the salt flat, so that the State is able to begin participating before current contracts expire. It will also lead conversations with other companies that are convenient for the subsequent development of the salt flat.
7. Prospect in other salt flats. It is necessary to register the resources available in other salt flats, and create the conditions for the potential extraction of lithium in a responsible and sustainable manner, as long as they are not part of the protected salt flats network. For exploitation projects with strategic value for the country, public-private associations will be established, with the State retaining control over productive decision-making.
8. Create the Chilean Economic Development Agency (CORFO) Productive Transformation Committee on Lithium. This committee will be led by the Energy Ministry. It will be in charge of promoting productive transformation and proposing scientific-technological and industrial development policies to develop new productive activities both up and downstream in the lithium cycle. It will also identify and take advantage of opportunities for chaining and adding value to the industry at the local level.
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