Map of the Lithium Triangle within the Arid Diagonal of South America.

The Lithium Triangle (Spanish: Triángulo del Litio) is a region of the Andes that is rich in lithium reserves, encompassed by the borders of Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile.[1] The lithium in the triangle is concentrated in various salt pans that exist along the Atacama Desert and neighboring arid areas, the largest areas three main salt pants that define its vertex< Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, Salar de Atacama in Chile, and Salar del Hombre Muerto in Argentina. Of those, Salar de Atacama in Chile has the highest concentration lithium (0.15% by weight) among all world's brine sources. The shape of the area of interest for lithium resources in salt pans is however not a triangle but more of a crescent starting with Salar de Surire (19° S) in the north and ending with Salar de Maricunga (27° S) in the south.[2] Because of this it has been proposed to rename the area Lithium Crescent.[2]

As of 2017 the area was thought to hold around 54% of the world's lithium reserves,[3] however, these reserves, which are the largest in size and the highest in quality in the world, are not expected to make the surrounding countries wealthy, as oil has done for the Gulf countries. For example, the total amount of lithium minerals in Chile is worth "less than Saudi Arabia's three years' worth of oil exports."[4]

Annual production in the early 2020’s was as follows: 140,000 tons per year in Chile,[5] 33,000 tons per year in Argentina,[6] and 600 en por per year in Bolivia.[7]


Currently, many countries situated in the Global North are trying to incorporate technocratic solutions in order to achieve sustainability directives.[8] Many of these directives include solutions for which lithium is an essential resource, e.g., the shift to electric vehicles and battery storrage system. Yet, in most Global North countries, lithium is not nearly as abundant as in the lithium triangle. Therefore, contemporary power relations in geopolitics have enabled Global North countries to expand their resource frontier to the lithium triangle, touching upon notions of green extractivism, to accommodate their needs at the expense of the Global South.[9][10] This green extractivist practice taking place in the lithium triangle leads to severe impact on the environment and socio-economic/socio-cultural livelihoods of local residents.[11][12][13] On of these countries facing such extraction on a large scale is Argentina.

According to The Economist, Argentina was, by November 2022, the country with most ongoing lithium extraction projects; in total 40.[14] By one estimate Argentina could displace Chile as the second largest lithium producer by 2027.[14] Similarly, there are estimates that posit Argentina producing 16% of the World's lithium by 2030 instead of the 6% it produced in 2021.[14] Low royalty payments when compared to Chile are cited by The Economist as a particular advantage.[14]

In December 2018 Bolivia signed an agreement with the German company ACISA for lithium extraction.[15] The cooperation with ACISA was, by June 2022, deemed to have stalled with Bolivia negotiating larger lithium projects with Canadian, Chinese, and United States companies.[15] Since the early 2020s, the Bolivian government has been advocating that the countries in the region organize themselves so that they can influence international trade of lithium, including the creation of an organization similar to OPEC.[16]

All lithium extracted in Chile as of 2023 comes from Salar de Atacama.[17] The only two lithium-extracting companies currently operating in Chile, SQM and Albemarle, have licenses to extract lithium until 2030 and 2043 respectively.[17][18] In April 2023, the Chilean government announced plans for nationalizing its lithium industry.[19] The announcement impacts chiefly the companies SQM and Albemarle.[19] In response, the shares of SQM in the Santiago Stock Exchange dropped by 15% during the day, their largest daily drop since September 20, 2022.[20] The government's decision was thought to have less impact for Albemarle than for SQM given that it had many more years to negotiate before its license expire.[18] The state-owned copper company Codelco was commissioned by the government to negotiate nationalization with SQM.[18]

The indigenous inhabitants of Salar de Atacama basin –the Likan Antay– have a history of both opposing lithium extraction and negotiating for shared benefits with lithium companies.[21] Negotiations occur under the framework of the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention which Chile signed in 2008.[21] It is argued that "[a]greements between Indigenous organizations and lithium companies have brought significant economic resources for community development, but have also expanded the mining industry's capacity for social control in the area.".[21]

This control is rooted in a dominant discourse that has taken root in the global rush to a sustainable future in light of global climate change.[12] With lithium being a key strategic resource is facilitating this shift, many countries are rushing to acquire as much as possible.[22] Any form of protest against such mining operations is deemed to an opposition to climate change, ergo hindering the global agenda in combatting climate change.[13][12] This discourse has resulted in the marginalisation of opposed indigiouness voices rendering them nearly powerless.[12]

See also


  1. ^ Anlauf, Axel (2016). "Greening the imperial mode of living? Socio- ecological (in)justice, electromobility, and lithium mining in Argentina". In Pichler, Melanie; Staritz, Cornelia; Küblböck, Karin; Plank, Christina; Raza, Werner; Ruiz Peyré, Fernando (eds.). Fairness and Justice in Natural Resource Politics.
  2. ^ a b López Steinmetz, Romina Lucrecia; Salvi, Stefano (2021). "Brine grades in Andean salars: When basin size matters A review of the Lithium Triangle". Earth-Science Reviews. 217. Bibcode:2021ESRv..21703615L. doi:10.1016/j.earscirev.2021.103615. S2CID 233846211.
  3. ^ Ellsworth Dickson (2017). "South America's prospective - The Lithium Triangle". Resource World. Retrieved 7 December 2019.
  4. ^ Lithium: The Global Race for Battery Dominance and the New Energy Revolution. 2021. L. Bednarski. ISBN 1787386732. p. 97.
  5. ^ (Dube 2022)"Chile has expanded output at its existing operations by 80% since 2016 to about 140,000 tons annually”
  6. ^ (Quinn 2024)"En 2022, Argentina produjo 33.000 toneladas de LCE, el segundo país de la región y el cuarto del mundo"
  7. ^ (Quinn 2024)"la producción solo alcanzó 600 toneladas de LCE el año pasado"
  8. ^ Parks, B. & Roberts, J. (2009). Inequality and the global climate regime: breaking the north-south impasse. Routledge. pp. 161–191. ISBN 9781315876177.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  9. ^ Vera, María L.; Torres, Walter R.; Galli, Claudia I.; Chagnes, Alexandre; Flexer, Victoria (March 2023). "Environmental impact of direct lithium extraction from brines". Nature Reviews Earth & Environment. 4 (3): 149–165. Bibcode:2023NRvEE...4..149V. doi:10.1038/s43017-022-00387-5. ISSN 2662-138X.
  10. ^ Voskoboynik, D.M., & Andreucci, D. (2022). "Greening extractivism: environmental impact of direct lithium extraction from brines". Nature Reviews Earth & Environment. 4: 149–165.((cite journal)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  11. ^ Agusdinata, Datu Buyung; Liu, Wenjuan; Eakin, Hallie; Romero, Hugo (November 2018). "Socio-environmental impacts of lithium mineral extraction: towards a research agenda". Environmental Research Letters. 13 (12): 123001. Bibcode:2018ERL....13l3001B. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/aae9b1. ISSN 1748-9326.
  12. ^ a b c d Dorn, F. M., Hafner, R., & Plank, C. (2022). "Towards a climate change consensus"how mining and agriculture legitimize green extractivism in Argentina". The Extractive Industries and Society. 11. doi:10.1016/j.exis.2022.101130.((cite journal)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  13. ^ a b Giglio, E. (2022). "Extractivism and its socio-environmental impact in South America. Overview of the Lithium Triangle". América Crítica: 47–53.
  14. ^ a b c d "Argentina could help the world by becoming a big lithium exporter". The Economist. 15 November 2022. Retrieved 21 April 2023.
  15. ^ a b "Bolivia: el sueño alemán del litio amenaza con derrumbarse". Deutsche Welle (in Spanish). 13 June 2022. Retrieved 20 April 2023.
  16. ^ "Hacia una Organización Latinoamericana de Países Exportadores de Litio (OLPEL)". CELAG (in Spanish). 23 May 2022. Retrieved 26 March 2023.
  17. ^ a b Munita C., Ignacia (21 April 2023). "Control estatal de los salares, negociar con SQM y empresa nacional: Las claves de la estrategia del Gobierno por litio". Emol (in Spanish). Retrieved 21 April 2023.
  18. ^ a b c Browne R., Vicente (21 April 2023). "Las razones del desplome bursátil de SQM tras el anuncio presidencial del litio". Ex-Ante (in Spanish). Retrieved 21 April 2023.
  19. ^ a b Villegas, Alexander; Scheyder, Ernest (21 April 2023). "Chile plans to nationalize its vast lithium industry". Reuters. Retrieved 21 April 2023.
  20. ^ Pescio, Benjamín; Arvelo, María C. (21 April 2023). "Acción de SQM se desploma por política del litio y borra más de US$ 3.300 millones en capitalización bursátil". Diario Financiero (in Spanish). Retrieved 22 April 2023.
  21. ^ a b c Lorca, Mauricio; Olivera Andrade, Manuel; Escosteguy, Melisa; Köppel, Jonas; Scoville-Simonds, Morgan; Hufty, Marc (2022). "Mining indigenous territories: Consensus, tensions and ambivalences in the Salar de Atacama". The Extractive Industries and Society. 9: 101047. doi:10.1016/j.exis.2022.101047. hdl:11250/3011598. S2CID 246456703.
  22. ^ Dorn, Felix M.; Ruiz Peyré, Fernando (2020). "Lithium as a Strategic Resource: Geopolitics, Industrialization, and Mining in Argentina". Journal of Latin American Geography. 19 (4): 68–90. doi:10.1353/lag.2020.0101. ISSN 1548-5811. S2CID 226967147.