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Web Date: February 7, 2012

Rockwood Expands Lithium Carbonate

Energy: Project is intended to meet rising demand for lithium-ion batteries
Department: Business
Keywords: lithium, lithium ion, advanced batteries, Chile, electric vehicles
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SALT-FLAT SOURCE
Lithium-containing brine is pumped from below the surface of the Salar de Atacama in Chile.
Credit: Rockwood Holdings
Salar de Atacama
 
SALT-FLAT SOURCE
Lithium-containing brine is pumped from below the surface of the Salar de Atacama in Chile.
Credit: Rockwood Holdings

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 LeNegra, 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 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 and SQM obtain lithium from South America. In 2009, 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% by early this year.

Rockwood is the only firm to produce lithium carbonate in the U.S. The facility, in Silver Peak, Nev., is also being expanded with the help of $28 million in funding from the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009. The company is investing a total of $75 million in Silver Peak and in a battery-grade lithium hydroxide plant in Kings Mountain, N.C.; both expansions are expected to be operating this spring.

 
Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © American Chemical Society

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