The Desert Made Out of Batteries

There’s a 600-mile long strip of barren land trapped by the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Andes on the other in the northern reaches of Chile. Some areas are hostile to human life and in others, there has yet to be any recorded rainfall. This barren wasteland is one of the most inhospitable environments in the world– and it’s made completely out of batteries.

Okay, well made from batteries might be a little bit of an overstatement, but it accounts for the largest lithium reserves in the entire world and is equally home to one of the largest lithium mines.

Salar de Atacama is a massive salt flat in the country of Chile that has no natural outlet and is located 1.4 miles above sea level. Along with cloudless skies, staying uncovered in the area too long could cause skin damage due to solar radiation. Rainfall each year is rarely over a few millimeters each year. It’s a punishing wasteland.

While these conditions may not be suitable for human life, they are perfect for the accumulation and mining of lithium.

Image Source: Concerning Reality

130 feet below the barren wasteland’s surface lies a large accumulation of aqueous brine dense with lithium. SQM, a Chilean chemical company, pumps the brine from the ground and evaporates off the moisture. Doing so leaves a greasy yellowy material filled with extractable lithium – a material that has become one of the most precious metals in the world.

Lithium is the lightest of all metals and is an incredible store of electricity. This has made it the go-to material for batteries in every field, being used by Tesla nearly every other electronics manufacturer.

This barren desert is home to the largest pure source of lithium in the world, containing an estimated 27% of the lithium reserves in the entire world, according to the US Geological Survey (USGS).

Digging even deeper into how the subsurface brine is transformed from a salty liquid into the world’s best batteries, we’re met with a whole lot of science. The lithium brine concentration is on average 2700 parts per million. That means that the brine is .27% lithium, and while that may not sound like a lot, it’s one of the highest natural concentrations found anywhere in the world.

Image Source: Concerning Reality

Much of the ground in the area is made up of lithium and other salts, which leach into the subsurface moisture and is then extracted for refinement into batteries. Most of the lithium is used to create Lithium-ion batteries where the metal acts as an electrode storing electrons and allowing their flow for power storage and output.

The battery market is currently worth 1 billion dollars, but Goldman Sachs estimates that the market will triple in the next 10 years due to the growth of electric cars, making the desert land even more valuable

Currently, Atacama Desert is one of the most valuable pieces of land in the world as well as being one of the most inhospitable barren wastelands – and is made nearly completely out of batteries.

Sources: Lithium Mine, FT

Trevor is a civil engineer (B.S.) by trade and an accomplished writer with a passion for inspiring everyone with new and exciting technologies. He is also a published children’s book author and the producer for the YouTube channel Concerning Reality.


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