Chile’s SQM outlines major expansion plans for lithium, nitrate & iodine production

SQM announced on December 23 that its board has approved initiating the process to increase the company’s capital by up to $1.1 billion through the issuance of 22.4 million Series B shares of common stock, subject to agreement at an extraordinary shareholders’ meeting on January 22. It is part of an ambitious $1.9 billion investment plan for 2021-2024 for expansion of its lithium, iodine and nitrate operations.

“Most of this capex will be executed in Chile where we have access to great natural resources such as the Salar de Atacama and our caliche ore deposits. This plan also includes the 50,000 metric tonne Mt Holland lithium hydroxide project in Western Australia, a 50/50 joint venture that we are developing with our partner Wesfarmers.”

Specifically relating to mining and production – some $1 billion of the total is related to lithium carbonate expansion in Chile, from 70,000 t/y to 180,000 t/y by 2023 (including to 120,000 t/y by end 2021) and lithium hydroxide production expansion from 13,500 t/y to 30,000 t/y (to 21,500 t/y by end 2021) in Chile. All Chilean lithium production is from underground Salar de Atacama brine deposits. It will also fund the Mt Holland project in Australia. All this is being done while aiming to become carbon neutral and reducing water by 65% and brine extraction by 50%.

Some $440 million will be invested in the caliche ore mining operations and plant in Chile for nitrates and iodine production of which $150 million relates to a seawater pipeline project. Annual nitrate production capacity is increasing to 250,000 t and iodine to 3,000 t. “To achieve this, we will modify our operations to incorporate the use of seawater, update our mining equipment and operational centres.”