Last week, we were in Chile for site visits and meetings with our partner, CleanTech Lithium. The trip also included meetings with the Ministry of Mining, the U.S. Embassy, and other important stakeholders, as well as having the opportunity to meet local community leaders. I was joined by KMX Chief Commercial Officer, Alexander de Vogel, and KMX Advisory Board Member, Iván Rebolledo.
After spending time in the beautiful but arid Andes Mountains with CleanTech Lithium, I am even more proud of the important work KMX is doing to maximize water recovery as part of the lithium concentration process.
Water is the Key Concern for Lithium Development in Chile
Chile is among the most attractive lithium-rich countries in the world due to its ample reserves, knowledgeable workforce, and stable political economy. However, water is the key concern for local communities, and a top issue for the national government and companies that rely on access to water for development.
Roughly 65% of water in the Atacama Desert region has been lost due to lithium and other mining practices. However, the integration of KMX’s vacuum membrane distillation technology enables companies to sustainably develop Chile’s lithium while preserving freshwater resources.
CleanTech Lithium Setting the Standard for Sustainable Lithium Development
KMX is proud to partner with CleanTech Lithium, which is setting the standard for sustainable lithium Development in Chile. The company is developing three highly attractive and environmentally conscious lithium-rich salars, while protecting water resources in the process.
Through our technology, KMX is positioned to help CleanTech Lithium maximize water recovery and lithium concentration, while reducing transportation costs and activity, as well as carbon emissions.
CleanTech Lithium CEO, Aldo Boitano, and KMX CEO, Zachary Sadow, at Laguna Verde in Chile
Source: KMX Technologies
CleanTech Lithium – Early Community Engagement and Protecting Water Resources
Decades of mining in the arid Atacama Desert has adversely impacted aquifers and created mistrust of mining companies.
CleanTech Lithium’s CEO, Aldo Boitano, a seasoned mountaineer and environmentalist, has commenced early engagement with local groups, and we were grateful to be on hand for one of these community engagement meetings. The key issue the local group expressed was the protection of water resources.
Developing Three Sustainable Lithium Salars
CleanTech Lithium is developing three strategic lithium projects in Chile, as shown in Figure 1 below, spanning over 500 km2 in license areas. Importantly for incorporating best water management practices, CleanTech Lithium is the sole developer of each basin, a rare strategic benefit for a project developer.
Combining best-in-class technologies with the advantage of being the sole developer of the basin is a significant advantage for achieving the most sustainable development, in our view (due to greater autonomy over water management).
Figure 1: CleanTech Lithium Project Footprint and Laguna Verde Overview
Source: CleanTech Lithium plc
KMX Versus the Competing Process
As shown below, KMX represents the critical second step: concentrating lithium following the Direct Lithium Extraction (DLE) process (or following the legacy evaporative pond process).
Once KMX concentrates the post-DLE or post-pond lithium, it is now ready to be converted from its natural state (lithium chloride) to battery grade lithium (lithium hydroxide or lithium carbonate).
Importantly, KMX creates distilled quality water while concentrating the lithium chloride, allowing project developers to forego drawing from freshwater aquifers for the water-intensive DLE washing process.
Figure 2: Three-Step Process for Bringing Lithium from Brine to Battery-Grade Lithium
Source: KMX Technologies, LLC
Chilean Lithium Policy – Encouraging Government Meetings
It was a timely trip ahead of the Chilean government’s expected announcement in 1Q23 of its national lithium strategy.
The long-awaited strategy announcement is expected to provide clarity for development, including the role of the state, opportunities for private companies, and priorities and values expected to guide the lithium industry in Chile. We expect water and community interests to be key focuses for the future of development.
We were grateful to meet with Dr. Gonzalo Gutiérrez, Lithium and Salares Advisor of the Ministry of Mining, an accomplished academic that is focused on ensuring Chile’s lithium is developed sustainably and with value-added industrial technologies and processes for the broader benefit of Chile’s economy, and Ximena Gatas, Minister of Mining Chief of Staff.
A key takeaway from our meeting at the Ministry of Mining included the interest in incorporating advanced technologies that preserve water by the incumbent lithium producers as well as by future private producers.
Discussions with officials at the U.S. Embassy were also encouraging. Chile and the U.S. enjoy a Free Trade Agreement and are both interested in ensuring the energy transition is carried out with sustainably sourced lithium while protecting Chile’s freshwater resources.
We are excited to continue to support CleanTech Lithium through additional collaboration on lithium concentration and water stewardship. We also look forward to maintaining an active dialogue with various stakeholders and hope to continue to grow our presence in Chile.
We thank the CleanTech Lithium team as well as the various government officials and groups that took the time to meet with KMX.