Rockwood Holdings will spend $140 million to build a lithium carbonate plant in Chile to meet rising demand for lithium compounds used in lithium-ion batteries. The 20,000-metric-ton-per-year facility will be built at Rockwood’s site at La Negra, near the port of Antofagasta in northern Chile. Along with an expansion program in the U.S., the new plant will bring Rockwood’s lithium carbonate capacity to 50,000 metric tons by the end of 2013.
“The accelerating increase in the demand for lithium—especially high-purity lithium compounds required for the production of large-format lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles of the future—is making it necessary for us to substantially increase production capacity,” says Rockwood CEO Seifi Ghasemi.
Rockwood obtains lithium carbonate from underground brine pools in a desert region in northern Chile called the Salar de Atacama. The carbonate is converted into lithium hydroxide and derivative compounds for use in batteries and other applications.
In addition to Rockwood, FMC Corp. and SQM obtain lithium from South America. In 2008, SQM expanded its Chilean lithium carbonate capacity to 40,000 metric tons. In 2010, FMC announced it would expand its lithium operation in nearby Argentina by 30%. Rockwood is the only firm to produce lithium carbonate in the U.S. It is investing $75 million to expand its Silver Peak, Nev., lithium mine and a battery-grade lithium hydroxide plant in Kings Mountain, N.C.