Lithium – Location of major salar lithium reserves

Lithium general description

Lithium is a soft, silver-white metal with a low density, making it highly reactive and flammable when exposed to air or water. It has a wide range of applications, including in rechargeable batteries for electronic devices and electric vehicles due to its high energy density, as well as in ceramics, glass, lubricants, and psychiatric medication to treat bipolar disorder and other mental health conditions. Lithium also has some industrial applications, such as in the production of aluminum, magnesium, and nuclear reactors.

Lithium salars

Lithium is extracted from brines that are pumped from beneath the surface of the salar into large evaporation ponds. 

Here are some of the major lithium salars around the world:

  • Salar de Atacama: Salar de Atacama is one of the world’s largest and most productive lithium salars, located in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. The high-altitude, dry, and sunny conditions in the Atacama Desert provide ideal conditions for the natural evaporation of water from the brines, leaving behind lithium-rich salts. Salar de Atacama is operated by two main companies, SQM (Sociedad Química y Minera) and Albemarle Corporation. SQM is the largest lithium producer in the salar and has been extracting lithium there for over 30 years. Albemarle Corporation acquired a stake in the salar in 2016 and has been rapidly expanding its production capacity since then. In 2020, Salar de Atacama produced over 80,000 metric tons of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE), which represents over 40% of the world’s total lithium production. The salar also produces other minerals, including potassium, boron, and iodine. The production of lithium from Salar de Atacama is expected to continue to increase in the coming years as demand for electric vehicles and other lithium-based products continues to grow.
  • Hombre Muerto: located in the province of Catamarca in northwestern Argentina. Lithium is extracted from brines that are pumped to the surface from beneath the salt flats and then processed to obtain lithium carbonate. The salar is operated by two main companies, Livent Corporation and FMC Lithium, which have been producing lithium in the area for several decades. In recent years, there has been significant investment in expanding production capacity at Hombre Muerto due to growing demand for lithium for use in electric vehicle batteries. In 2020, Hombre Muerto produced around 25,000 metric tons of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE), representing around 12% of the world’s total lithium production. Livent Corporation and FMC Lithium have plans to increase production capacity at Hombre Muerto, with Livent aiming to double its production capacity by 2025. The expansion is expected to further boost Argentina’s position as a major lithium producer, along with Chile and Australia.
  • Salar del Rincón: is a lithium-rich salt flat located in the Salinas Grandes basin in the northwest of Argentina. It is one of the largest undeveloped lithium projects in the world, with an estimated resource of over 6 million tonnes of lithium carbonate equivalent. The salar is operated by the Australian mining company Lake Resources, which has been conducting exploration and development work in the area since 2016. Lake Resources plans to use innovative, low-cost direct extraction technology to produce high-quality lithium products from the brines at Salar del Rincón. Lake Resources has stated that Salar del Rincón has the potential to produce up to 25,000 tonnes per annum of battery-grade lithium carbonate, making it a significant new source of supply for the global lithium market. The company has also signed agreements with major battery manufacturers in Asia to supply lithium products from the salar. However, it should be noted that as of my knowledge cutoff date of September 2021, Lake Resources had not yet begun commercial production at Salar del Rincón.
  • Salar de Uyuni: is the world’s largest salt flat, located in Bolivia. It is estimated to contain about 9 million tonnes of lithium reserves, making it one of the largest lithium deposits in the world. However, lithium production in Salar de Uyuni has been relatively limited due to several factors, including technical challenges, political instability, and limited foreign investment. The Bolivian government has traditionally maintained strict control over the country’s lithium resources and has limited foreign investment in the industry. In recent years, however, the government has announced plans to open up the sector to foreign investment and has signed agreements with several international companies to develop lithium projects in the country. One of the major projects in Salar de Uyuni is the Lithium Americas Cauchari-Olaroz project, a joint venture between Lithium Americas and the Chinese company Ganfeng Lithium. The project is expected to produce up to 40,000 tonnes per year of lithium carbonate and is currently in the construction phase. Another project in the salar is the ACISA project, a joint venture between Bolivian state-owned company YLB and German company ACI Systems. The project is still in the planning phase but aims to produce up to 30,000 tonnes per year of battery-grade lithium products. Overall, while Salar de Uyuni has significant lithium reserves, production has been limited due to various factors. However, with new investments and partnerships, Bolivia aims to become a major player in the global lithium market in the coming years.
  • Clayton Valley:  is a lithium-rich basin located in Nevada, United States. Lithium is extracted from brines that are pumped to the surface from the basin’s underground aquifer system. The brines are then processed to obtain high-quality lithium products, including lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide. Clayton Valley is operated by several companies, including Albemarle Corporation, Lithium Americas, and Cypress Development Corp. Albemarle Corporation has been producing lithium from the basin for several decades and is one of the largest producers in the area. Lithium Americas is developing the Thacker Pass lithium project in the area, which is expected to produce up to 60,000 tonnes per annum of battery-grade lithium products. Cypress Development Corp. is also exploring and developing its Clayton Valley Lithium Project in the area. In 2020, Clayton Valley produced around 5,000 metric tons of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE), making it a relatively small producer compared to some of the larger lithium salars in South America. However, the Clayton Valley basin is strategically located near the large electric vehicle market in the United States, which could make it an attractive source of supply for the growing demand for lithium in the region. Overall, Clayton Valley has the potential to become a significant producer of lithium in the coming years, with several companies exploring and developing projects in the area.

There are also several other lithium salars and deposits around the world, including in Canada, Mexico, China, and Europe.


Data from Delta Analysis and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

To download the data, click the cloud in the right corner at the bottom of the figure.

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