Rockwood seeks permit for lithium plant expansion

By
Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Lithium producer Rockwood Litio, a subsidiary of US chemical firm Albemarle, has submitted an environmental impact assessment to Chilean authorities for the phase 3 expansion of its lithium processing facilities in northern Antofagasta region.

The project entails the expansion of its La Negra and Salar plants to boost lithium carbonate production from the existing 100Mlb/y (45,300t/y) to 88,000t/y, while maintaining production capacity of 4,500t/y of lithium chloride, the equivalent of 6,000t/y of lithium carbonate.

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Work entails a new pre-concentrator and a new system of evaporating ponds at the Salar facilities to increase brine production to 250,000m3/y; 12 new piling facilities at Salar; and carrying out several upgrades of processes at La Negra, according to the documents filed with the regional environmental evaluation service (SEA).

Planned investment is US$300mn. If approved, work is expected to start next July.

The project is the second lithium production expansion submitted to environmental authorities in 10 days, after rival producer SQM filed an environmental impact assessment to expand lithium capacity at its Salar del Carmen facility for US$180mn.

Chile's nuclear agency CCHEN also recently cleared an agreement signed between Rockwood and state development agency Corfo to boost lithium output.

Rockwood and SQM are the only two private sector companies currently allowed to mine lithium resources in Chile since their concessions were granted prior to the resource being declared strategic in the 1970s.