Lithium extraction for e-mobility robs Chilean communities of water

Posted: January 27, 2020 by oldbrew in Accountability, Batteries, Critique

Salar de Atacama, Chile [image credit: Francesco Mocellin @ Wikipedia]

Wikipedia says: ‘Salar de Atacama is the world’s largest and purest active source of lithium, containing 27% of the world’s lithium reserve base…Extraction of lithium-rich brines is causing conflict with water use by local communities and is damaging the ecosystem, including the Andean flamingo.’ Do self-styled planet savers approve of this?

Global demand for lithium is expected to triple in six years.

But mining companies are increasingly coming into conflict with indigenous communities who are worried about the future of their ecosystems, says

In the middle of the world’s driest desert is a vast expanse of turquoise basins, each one like a colossal swimming pool, up to 20 times the size of a football field.

The pools are filled with a salty brine pumped up from ancient reservoirs under the desert. It also contains lithium carbonate, the raw material for a light, silvery metal that happens to be a component of the batteries now used by virtually all computers, phones and electric cars.

At first glance, Chile’s Atacama Desert looks a barren, inhospitable place. Yet indigenous people and animals have long thrived there. Now locals says they’re having to compete with the lithium industry for the desert’s limited water resources.

Coyo is one of dozens of Likan-antai communities that live in the desert’s small oases. The community takes turns to tap the San Pedro River water and after waiting for two weeks, today, Hugo Diaz can finally water his crops.

“Before the mining companies arrived here, there was a lot of water,” Diaz told DW. “But mining has consumed the groundwater, the companies even take water from the river, so we farmers don’t get the water we need anymore.”

The 58-year-old farmer points to markings above the water’s surface in the irrigation canal that bear witness to past times’ higher water levels. “Today, very few farmers can make a living,” he said.

For the Likan-antai, water has not only material but also cultural and spiritual value. “We don’t just need water to maintain our customs and agriculture, water is life,” said Vladimir Reyes, one of the oldest members of the Coyo community.

“At the moment, the young people have been trying to learn about agriculture, but they face the obstacle that water is getting less. That is the damage that mining companies are doing to us,” Reyes said.

The Saudi Arabia of lithium

With the world’s largest reserves of the valuable metal, Chile has been called “the Saudi Arabia of lithium.” Over the last 20 years, 40% of the global lithium supply has come from Chile. And global demand is expected to triple within the next six years.

Continued here.

  1. […] über Lithium extraction for e-mobility robs Chilean communities of water — Tallbloke’s Talkshop […]

  2. oldbrew says:

    Atacama desert – driest place on earth…

    Re. lithium: starts at 1 min. 25secs.

  3. JB says:

    Thanks, OB!

  4. stewgreen says:

    I used to live in the Atacama Desert at the Maria Elena Nitrates mine
    It is mega dry, but liveable cos the humidity is extremely low.
    Further east and higher is Salar to Atacama
    I’ve been there 3 times once en route from Bolivia, once en route up past a lithium mine and down into Paraguay.
    I don’t remember seeing any water up there except one river does flow down, but already by our mine the river water was too polluted so our towns water came from 160Km east from us by pipeline, cos the nature of the geography is that it almost never rains on the west side of the Andes there, it rains on the east side.
    There can be occasional moisture, not from rain, but from a kind of fog which condenses

  5. stpaulchuck says:

    Just think of all those unfortunate people out there who won’t be able to afford their mental stability drugs as lithium prices skyrocket! EV’s and hybrids are causing a medical emergency as they divert most of the lithium production to batteries. Oh my. /snark

  6. oldbrew says:

    FEBRUARY 10, 2020
    Exclusive: Top lithium miner seeks to monitor water scarcity in parched Chile salt flat

    The previously unreported move is an indication of how important it has become for miners to prove their supplies of the so-called “white gold” battery metal are sustainable as they court automakers preparing for the coming electric vehicle revolution.

    Car companies have ratcheted up scrutiny in the Atacama, by far the biggest source of supply in South America’s so-called “lithium triangle,” where one lithium producer is locked in a court battle over pumping of brine and a copper miner has opted for pricey desalination over drawing water from local aquifers.

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