Chile

Salar de Atacama Mine

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Categories

Overview

Mine TypeIn-Situ
StatusActive
Commodities
  • Potassium
  • Lithium
  • Boron
  • Sulfate of potash (SOP)
  • Boric acid
Mining Method
  • Brine mining
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SnapshotThe Salar de Atacama operation has one of the lowest carbon footprints on the planet. Ar4

The brine deposits of the Salar de Atacama, a salt-encrusted depression in the Atacama Desert, contain high concentrations of lithium and potassium as well as significant concentrations of sulfate and boron.

Owners

SourceSource
CompanyInterestOwnership
Sociedad Quimica y Minera de Chile S.A. 100 % Indirect
SQM subsidiary SQM Salar S.A., as leaseholder, holds exclusive and temporary rights to exploit mineral resources in the Salar de Atacama in northern Chile.

Contractors

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Deposit type

  • Brine

Summary:

The brine deposits of the Salar de Atacama, a salt-encrusted depression in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, contain high concentrations of lithium and potassium as well as significant concentrations of sulfate and boron.

Deposit Types
The Salar de Atacama brine deposit is contained within porous media filled with interstitial brine rich in Li, K, and boron among other ions.

The Salar de Atacama nucleus is constituted by a thick section of evaporites over a surface area of 1,100 square km and up to a depth of 900 m (Bevacqua, 1992; Xterrae, 2011). It is surrounded by a marginal zone of clastic sediments over an area of about 2,000 square km of extension (Díaz del Río, et al., 1972). The nucleus is mainly constituted by halite (>90%) with sulfate and a minor percentage of clastic sediments as well as some interbedded clay sediments and sulfates. Therefore, the Salar de Atacama is classified as a mature salt flat, according to the site geology and Houston, et al. (2011) classification.

Property Geology
Upper Halite
This unit comprises pure halite and halite with clastic sedimentary material and/or gypsum. The clastic sedimentary material comprises clay, silt, and sand, which are more abundant near surface and decrease with increasing depth. The Upper Halite has a mean thickness of 17 m in the West Block and 23 m in the East Block. In the West Block, the Upper Halite is underlain by a clay lens, gypsum, or carbonate units, depending on the specific area. In the East Block, the Upper Halite overlies halite with organic matter.

Clastic and Upper Evaporites
Clastic and evaporitic unit underlying the Upper Halite, which is mainly constituted by plastic clays, evaporites (halite and gypsum) and carbonates. This unit is mainly recognized in the West Block, and it presents a variable thickness between 0.3 m and 16 m, with a mean thickness of 1 m. This unit also includes two clay layers located in the SW and NW areas of the West Block.

Halite, Gypsum, and Carbonates with Organic Matter
This unit is mainly constituted by halite with interbedded gypsum, carbonates, and organic matter (black to gray colored). It is found in the East Block, with a minimum thickness of 3 m near the Salar Fault and maximum thickness of 242 m along the eastern edge of the salt flat (with a mean thickness of 64 m throughout the area). This unit separates the Upper Halite unit from the Intermediate Halite Unit in the East Bock.

Intermediate Halite
The Intermediate Halite is divided into three distinct blocks according to observed spatial differences: (i) Northwest Block from the coordinate 7,385,626 5 m S, (ii) Southwest Block from the coordinate 7,385,626 m S, and the East Block. The three blocks are characterized by pure halite and halite with clastic sedimentary material and/or gypsum, with less than 25% of intercrystallite and intracrystalline content. In the East Block, minor traces of organic matter and carbonates are also present.

The Intermediate Halite unit thickness differs between the West Block and East Block: in the northwest (West Block), its maximum thickness is 25 m, while in the East Block, its maximum thickness reaches 429 m (with a mean thickness of 238 m).

Evaporites and Intermediate Volcanoclastics
The Evaporite and Intermediate Volcanoclastic Unit represents an erosional unconformity and is composed of interbedded gypsum, tuff, and reworked volcanoclastic material. In total, at least 10 tuff layers are found in this unit that are affected by local wedging, folding, and truncation. Toward the north of the salt flat, a change of facies is present where the gypsum grades to halite and the thickness increases (to the north) and is wedged to the south.

In the western block, this sequence has a recognized thickness of between 0 and 157 m and a mean thickness of 84 m. Its top, on average, is located at a depth of 51 m below the surface of the salt flat. Between the Salar and Cabeza de Caballo Faults, a sequence of sediments and evaporites called Sequence 1 is found which composed mainly of clay, halite, and gypsum. This sequence decreases towards the south and towards the Salar Fault, with thickness ranging from 7 to 36 m and a mean thickness of 20 m, where its greatest thickness is observed in the SOP deposit.

In the East Block, the Intermediate Evaporitic and Volcanoclastic unit is similar in composition to that described in the West Block. The only difference is that its mean thickness is on the order of 100 m, and the top of this unit is located at a mean depth of 318 m below surface.

Lower Halite
The Lower Halite comprises pure halite, halite with clasitic sedimentary material and/or gypsum, as well as halite with clay and/or sand. The halite generally presents a mosaic texture, and the clastic sedimentary material represent less than 25% of the rock, and they are clays, silt, and brown to red sands. The gypsum content represents less than 10% of the unit.

This unit is recognized in both West and East Blocks; in the West Block it has a variable thickness with a mean of 69 m in the West Block.

Regional Clays
A deep layer of clays, with a minimum depth below land surface of 60 m (West Block) and maximum depth below land surface of 400 m (East Block). This unit represents an erosional unconformity according to the seismic profile interpretation (Arriagada, Cobbolds & Roperch, 2006).

Underlaying the shallower sections of the Regional Clays, a deep tuff layer can be found with a mean thickness of 5 m. It consists of a thin crystalline - pumice tuff with abundant biotite, feldspars, and sparse quartz.

Reserves

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Mining Methods

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Comminution

Crushers and Mills

Milling equipment has not been reported.

Processing

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Production

CommodityProductUnits20222021202020192018
Potassium Salt kt  ....  Subscribe  ....  Subscribe  ....  Subscribe1,0491,049
Lithium Carbonate kt  ....  Subscribe  ....  Subscribe  ....  Subscribe6262

Operational metrics

Metrics202220212020
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Production Costs

Commodity production costs have not been reported.

Financials

Units2023
Capital expenditures (planned) M USD  ....  Subscribe

Heavy Mobile Equipment

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Personnel

Mine Management

Job TitleNameProfileRef. Date
....................... Subscription required ....................... Subscription required Subscription required Sep 16, 2023
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EmployeesYear
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Aerial view:

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