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Drought, not lithium mining, is drying out Chile’s largest salt flat


Lithium mining has been blamed for the drying out of a region in the Andes where the metal is naturally found – but drought may be the culprit instead



Environment



4 November 2022

An aerial view of the brine pools and processing areas of the SQM lithium mine in Chile

Ivan Alvarado/Reuters

Lithium production is often blamed for drying up freshwater in South America’s “Lithium Triangle” – a region of the Andes mountains in Chile, Argentina and Bolivia which contains most of the world’s lithium reserves. But a prolonged drought is probably behind most of the drying.

As a key component in batteries, lithium is critical to transitioning away from fossil fuels. Demand for the soft white metal is projected to increase 40 times by …



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