Albemarle Corporation, one of the largest lithium producers in the world and present in Chile for more than 40 years, has inaugurated its third chemical conversion plant, La Negra III/IV, in Antofagasta, Chile, as one of the most modern chemical conversion plants in Latin America.
With new technology, the plant is expected to double lithium production from lithium concentrate from brine and further reduce the company’s low-freshwater consumption in this process, marking a clear commitment to sustainable production.
Located 27 kilometers from the city of Antofagasta, Albemarle’s La Negra III/IV plant represents an investment of more than US$500 million and has R&D laboratories and facilities for the chemical processes that are intended to remove impurities and transform the lithium concentrate from the Salar de Atacama into high value-added products.
The new plant includes a US$100-million thermal evaporator that is designed to reduce the amount of fresh water per metric ton used during the process at La Negra considerably. It recovers the water from what is commonly called the “mother liquor” and then recycles it in the production process of technical-grade and battery-grade lithium carbonate. The technology is intended to reduce water consumption by up to 30% per metric ton.
Albemarle began producing lithium carbonate at the La Negra facility in 1984 on the basis of natural brines from the Salar de Atacama, one of the driest deserts on earth. The 6% lithium concentrate is trucked 270 km from the Salar to the La Negra facility. In 1998, the company brought a lithium chloride plant in La Negra on stream.
In May 2017, the company inaugurated the new La Negra II Plant for the production of battery-grade lithium carbonate with a capacity of 44,000 tons per year. The third phase of expansion at La Negra will increase the production capacity of battery-grade lithium carbonate to more than 80,000MT. (Full nameplate capacity at La Negra III/IV requires completion of Salar Yield Improvement Project.)