Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Lithium and Flamingo: Atacama Survival!


The Cockroach Catcher has been rather quiet as he was in one of the world's more remote areas: Atacama Desert of Chile.


As one of the firm advocates of Lithium, he thought he needed to be where much of the world's Lithium could be cheaply produced.

As a lover of wild life he soon finds himself in a difficult position especially as much of the Lithium would be used in batteries for cars such as the $100,000 plus Tesla and your iPhones and Tablets.



Chile could produce lithium cheaply by using water and in a desert where the water is scarce this creates a problem: especially for the Flamingos. A third of the lake water is now used for extracting the Lithium.



All photos © Am Ang Zhang 2015

There is a view that the water will run out and with that the Flamingos will perish. Just a worry especially as The Cockroach Catcher was not sure if any Lithium will be left for Manic Depressives (Sorry: Bipolars!)



A reprint:

Chile: Salar de Atacama & Bipolar Disorder.

Santiago, Chile was the starting point of our recent cruise round Cape Horn. We had a wonderful guide who took us from Santiago city to the Valparaiso port, where we boarded our cruise liner. She was infectiously enthusiastic. She told us that apart from copper, agricultural products and wine, Chile produced something that was very important for her brother.  He suffers from Trastorno Afectivo Bipolar (Bipolar Disorder) and Chile is the world’s largest producer of lithium.


Some of the world’s most important deserts are around the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn and here in Chile the desert called Salar de Atacama is no exception. 
Our guide told us that as the snow melts in the Andes the water went underground and dissolves the lithium salt to form lithium brine. It is pumped to the surface where the sun did the rest of the work in evaporating the water content. Lithium could then be extracted from the salt. According to Forbes, the solar energy keeps lithium extraction costs to an estimated $1,260 per ton of lithium carbonate. It sells that ton for up to $12,000.


From the NASA website

The Salar de Atacama in Chile is an enclosed basin with no drainage outlets. (Salar is Spanish for “salt flat.”) The salar is located in the southern half of the Atacama Desert; with no historical or current records of rainfall in some parts of this desert, it is considered to be one of the driest places on Earth.

The brines are pumped to the surface through a network of wells and into large, shallow evaporation ponds; three such evaporation facilities are visible in the center of the image. Color variations in the ponds are due to varying amounts of salts relative to water. The dry and windy climate enhances evaporation of the water, leaving concentrated salts behind for extraction of the lithium.

There is increased industrial use of lithium.  Major car manufacturers are switching to lithium batteries which are much lighter than conventional ones. It could mean 250 miles to the gallon for hybrid cars and even better for solar panel ones.
We are already using lithium batteries in a number of electronic equipments such as BlackBerrys, iPods, computers and digital cameras.


Amazing what a desert can yield!

Please spare some lithium for Bipolar Disorder though.


Lithium for Manic-Depressive Disorder (Bipolar Disorder):

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