BMW Sustainable Lithium Salar de Atacama, Antofagasta, Chile

A core component of the batteries used in electric vehicles is lithium, and following an agreement to source the material from South America via U.S. supplier Livent, and an investment in sustainable lithium extraction startup Lilac last year, BMW has joined the Responsible Lithium Partnership. Founded by German multinational chemical conglomerate BASF along with Mercedes-Benz Group AG, Daimler Truck AG, Fairphone, and the Volkswagen Group in 2021, BMW is the sixth member to join the association which has the goals of reaching a shared understanding of responsible management of natural resources with local interest groups and developing a vision for the future of the Salar de Atacama salt flat in Chile.

BMW is supporting the project by sharing its own scientific research and findings as they relate to the impact of lithium mining and extraction on Chilean water resources, specially those in Salar de Atacama. Back in 2020, BMW, along with BASF, commissioned a long-term study carried out by the University of Alaska Anchorage and the University of Massachusetts Amherst which has been looking into the effects of lithium mining on local water balances in Latin America. The study is aimed at acquiring an in-depth understanding of how fresh water and lithium brine layers interact, evaluating various technologies and concepts, gaining expertise as it relates to sustainable lithium extraction, and ultimately providing a basis for future decisions as they relate to the sourcing of lithium.

BMW Sustainable Lithium

The Responsible Lithium Partnership is being coordinated by the German Agency for International Cooperation, which also has a goal of developing a strategic plan for the future of water catchment areas of the Salar de Atacama, and formulating an action plan to improve the long-term management of natural resources. Stakeholders including those from lithium and copper mining operations, local tourism, agriculture, indigenous communities, and government have all been invited to collaborate.

Speaking of Chile and Atacama, we can’t help but be reminded of two other BMW-related connections to the region. The first is when BMW offered the color Atacama Yellow on the E89 Z4, and the second is the soft-side luggage system offered for BMW GS motorcycles.—Alex Tock

[Photos courtesy BMW AG.]

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