Photographer Tom Hegen
THE vivid swathes of minerals in this lithium extraction field make for a dazzling sight, but also represent a troubling aspect of our rapidly electrifying world.
Taken by photographer Tom Hegen, this image of the Soquimich lithium mine in the Atacama desert, run by major mining operator SQM, is part of his new project, The Lithium Series I, which documents lithium extraction in Chile.
The element is a critical component in the lithium-ion batteries used to power electric cars, which are projected to account for up to 60 per cent of new car sales by 2030. The ongoing demand for lithium is unprecedented.
More than half of the world’s supply of this element is thought to reside in the “Lithium Triangle” where Chile, Argentina and Bolivia meet, with roughly a quarter contained in the Salar de Atacama salt flats in northern Chile.
The rush for lithium is transforming landscapes across South America. The varying hues of the ponds in this extraction field on the salt flats are caused by different concentrations of lithium carbonate, ranging from the dilute, turquoise, to the highly concentrated, yellow.
Although pretty from a distance, lithium mines are environmentally damaging and use a lot water and energy.
They can also harm local communities. The Lithium Triangle is one of the driest regions on Earth, and the mining is reducing access to fresh water for Indigenous communities, as well as disrupting wildlife habitats – effects that are only exacerbated by climate change.
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