In the Atacama Desert, located between Chile’s first and second regions, SQM has exclusive access to the world’s best and largest reserves of caliche ore and brines. It possesses the most extensive reserves of iodine and nitrate, as well as the highest concentrations of lithium and potassium on record. In addition, in 2017 the Company began diversifying geographically by acquiring new resources to extract lithium from spodumene in Western Australia (in partnership with Kidman Resources).
The word caliche derives from the Quechua word, which initially called this mineral “cachi”, and which in that language means salt. The term first derived from “calchi”, until it came to “caliche”, which is how it is known today. The caliche ore of northern Chile contains the largest known nitrate and iodine deposits in the world and is the world’s only commercially exploitable source of natural nitrate. From our caliche ore deposits, we produce a wide range of nitrate-based products used for specialty plant nutrients and industrial applications, as well as iodine and iodine derivatives. The caliche mineral is found under a layer of infertile coating, with thicknesses that vary from twenty centimeters to five meters.
The brines are found in the core of the Salar de Atacama, and they contain the highest concentrations of lithium and potassium hitherto known, as well as considerable concentrations of sulfate and boron. From this natural resource, lithium carbonate, potassium chloride, potassium sulfate, boric acid and magnesium chloride are produced. The Salar de Atacama is a source of underground brines, formed by natural leaching from the Andes mountain range: over time, the various minerals found under the salty surface crust have descended from the mountains and have accumulated in increasing concentrations. In addition to the high concentrations of its brines, the Salar de Atacama has another series of advantages: it allows low processing costs due to its low magnesium content; It has higher evaporation rates than other salt flats in the world and gives the possibility of operating all year round, thanks to the privileged climatic conditions.