SALAR DE ATACAMA, Chile, May 11 (Reuters) – Albemarle Corp (ALB.N) hopes to expand its lithium operations in Chile’s Atacama salt flat as early as 2028 with direct lithium extraction (DLE) technology under its current government contract, Ignacio Mehech, the company’s Chile manager, told Reuters.

“Depending on environmental and other permits needed in Chile, as well as scaling technologies, we believe (DLE) should be implemented, if everything goes well, towards 2028 or 2029,” Mehech said during an interview at the company’s Atacama lithium mining operations.

Albemarle and SQM, the only two lithium producers in Chile, currently extract the metal using mass evaporation ponds from brine taken from underground reservoirs. President Gabriel Boric has heavily pushed DLE technology. So far commercially unproven, the method could preserve water tables by allowing brine to be reinjected underground after lithium is extracted.

Even so, DLE still requires large volumes of freshwater to filter lithium