Photographer reveals dark side of lithium extraction in South America

While this is aimed at reducing carbon emissions and harm to the environment that occurs during the process of oil and gas production, lithium extraction is not ultimately environment friendly either.

The extraction of lithium

The lithium-ion battery has many advantages, and metal is also abundantly available but only in some parts of the world. One among them is the location called Lithium Triangle, which lies under the geographical boundaries of Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile.

To drill out lithium, miners drill holes in these salt flats and then pump out lithium in the form of a salty brine, which is left in artificial lakes and ponds to evaporate. Tom Hegen, a photographer who is interested in capturing the extraction, refinement, and consumption of resources, chartered a small plane and flew high over Salar de Atacama salt flats in northern Chile to capture the lithium extraction process at the site.

The bright colors represent the different stages of the extraction process, with the brine looking pinky white which then changes to turquoise as the water evaporates. At the highest concentration, the pond looks bright yellow.

The not-so-green lithium

The extraction might be pretty to look at, but the realities on the ground are not. In the paradox of clean electric vehicles, we reported last year, how the process is water intensive and uses 500,000 gallons (two million liters) of water for every ton of lithium produced.

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