Chilean regulator terminates review of new Albemarle plant

By William Clarke
Published: Thursday, 20 December 2018

Plans for Albemarle's new lithium plant have been stalled after Chile's environmental office stopped its review due to the impact statement lacking the necessary information.

Chile’s environmental regulatory authority has terminated a review into US chemicals company Albemarle’s plan to build a new lithium plant in Chile.

Albemarle’s environmental impact statement for its plan to build a new lithium carbonate plant in northern Chile, with capacity for 42,500 tonnes per year, lacked the information necessary to gauge the project’s effects on the local soil, water and air, the regulator said on November 12.

Albemarle filed the environmental impact statement in September, telling regulators that the expansion would not increase brine usage at the site.

The company could not be reached for comment about the regulator’s response at the time of publication, and it is unclear what its next course of action will be.

What is clear is that more regular supply would be welcome. This year the company suffered shutdowns in three of its facilities. Albemarle chief executive officer Luke Kissam addressed the issue in a separate press release when the company submitted its third-quarter results. 

"While unexpected shutdowns at three of our lithium manufacturing sites resulted in volume shortfalls during the quarter, all facilities are now back online and operating at forecast rates," he said on November 8.

Its Kings Mountain plant in the United States closed for two weeks due to Hurricane Florence; unannounced environmental inspections at its Xinyu plant in China caused a one-week closure there; and its Chilean operations closed for a week due to a power blackout and the failure of a soda ash delivery line.

Albemarle reported rising revenues, thanks to higher prices and increasing volumes in the third quarter of 2018.

Although lithium prices have been trending lower throughout 2018, they reached historical highs at the end of 2017, thanks to strong demand from the battery sector.

Fastmarkets IM assessed the price of lithium carbonate, min 99-99.5% Li2CO3, large contracts, packed in bags, cif Asia, at $14-18 per kg on October 31, compared with $17-20 per kg on December 27 last year.