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Lithium Landscapes

from BBC

How your phone battery creates striking alien landscapes

By Richard Fisher and Javier Hirschfeld

A wider view of Chile's brine pools. It can take more than a year to maximise the lithium concentration by this evaporation method (Credit: Ivan Alvarado/Reuters)
A wider view of Chile’s brine pools. It can take more than a year to maximise the lithium concentration by this evaporation method (Credit: Ivan Alvarado/Reuters)

Beneath the screen that you are reading this on, there could be the distilled essence of a salt plain.

Millions of years ago, volcanoes deposited minerals over vast tracts of South America. Later, water leached through the rock to form massive lakes. Cycles of evaporation and deposition followed, leaving vast plains of salt behind – infused with one of the world’s most sought-after minerals: lithium.

With the rapid rise in battery usage in electronic devices and electric cars, the demand for lithium and other constituent materials is accelerating. As BBC Future has previously reported, it is enabling mining companies to look in new places, such as the deep ocean or in previously exploited mines, and has prompted scientists to seek alternative battery technology. But our focus today is how lithium is changing the fortunes – and specifically, the landscapes – of those countries that have it in abundance.

In Bolivia and Chile, the high tonnage of lithium embedded in the salt plains has given rise to massive facilities. From the air, the evaporation pools associated with the mineral’s extraction dot the landscape like colours in a painter’s palette. In this edition of our photography series Anthropo-Scene, we explore these places, whose striking features have inspired various artistswriters and architects.

[ click to continue reading at BBC ]

Posted on August 9, 2021 by Editor

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