Gonzalo Gutiérrez: "is a moment of decisions regarding the lithium and salt flats"

Gonzalo Gutiérrez: "is a moment of decisions regarding the lithium and salt flats"

The issue returned to the fore after the return of Julio Ponce Lerou SQM, while his departure was one of the conditions by which CORFO reached an agreement earlier this year with such non-metallic mining to triple the share of this resource extraction. The academician of the Department of Physics of the Faculty of Sciences refers to how, beyond the political scene, "at this moment the lithium has become strategic".

Lithium should remain a non-concessionary element and that it should add value; exploitation of salt flats must ensure sustainability, in reference to indigenous peoples; and that you should create a national company of lithium. These are just some of the proposals emanating from theCommission national of lithium, instance created on 11 June 2014 and 2015 delivered a report which includes such measures, resolved unanimously in relation to such strategic resource, of which Chile is one of the largest worldwide reserves.In this instance the academic in the Faculty of Sciences, Gonzalo Gutiérrez, participatedwho in his capacity as expert in nanometales joined the Commission as a scientific advisor of the single Confederation of workers.

But these agreements were not considered when on 17 January this year,CORFO, on behalf of the State of Chile, signed two contracts with SQM which tripled the fees to exploit, process and sell lithium, negotiation that took place without consultation to indigenous communities, such as required by ILO Convention 169.

This agreement between CORFO and SQM, it said the former Vice President of the State body, Eduardo Bitrán to the National Congress, would increase the quota of extraction in Exchange for the impediment that Julio Ponce Lerou and their relatives control the company, which was reversed a few weeks ago with the announcement of the disputed return entrepreneur as Advisor.

What standing do you leave this scenario to this essential element for our country?, what answers and explains the academic in this interview with press U. de Chile.

With regard to the current context, in which lithium returns to the fore regarding business and political scene. Could a moment of decisions be considered as that brought Chile to the copper mining?

Yes, it is a moment of decisions with respect to lithium, but not only of lithium. I think that is a moment of decisions concerning salt flats. In salt flats is obtained not only lithium but also boron, potassium and various chlorides. Lithium in Chile is obtained as a brine of salt flats - is not rock-mining, then what you need to consider is to salt flats as a whole. And that, when it was created the National Commission of lithium that President Bachelet, was one of the first decisions that were made.

What one should express that consideration of salt flats, under measures?

First, you have to discuss in what way can be a sustainable exploitation of salt flats. In salt flats in Chile there are flora, there is wildlife, and most important, there are indigenous communities, then it is something extremely fragile and complex, different from the traditional mining, and that, when [in the ´90] the exploitation of lithium and potassium in the Salar de Atacama , was not considered because they were still work on a small scale, what has changed. Therefore, should talk now that is sustainable.

First, do it is possible to carry out a sustainable exploitation of salt flats? If that it is the case, under what technical conditions can be. Native peoples and the communities of around salars, are accordingly? These are questions that have not responded. Nowadays not even salt flats there is a hydrogeological model. We don't know how they work. Then, there is to much scientific research, technical research, research from the point of view of the social sciences, from the point of view of the waters, of the communities, what is the legal status that exists there. There is nothing of that, and that's what recognized the National Commission of lithium in its report for the year 2015.

And in that vein, how citizenship what are the potentials of lithium?

Lithium is removed in two ways in the world: pickles or through rocks. And, why does lithium?, because lithium has become a key element in power, in three aspects. One is nuclear fusion energy. There is still no nuclear fusion reactors, which exists are fission, but those of merger are being built. There is a project and fuel these is lithium.

Second, lightweight lithium alloys there is aluminum used in aircraft, boats and wheeled and generate that those elements are much lighter. Therefore the energy saving obtained is very large.

The application - which I think is that most known - is that lithium is essential for energy storage in so-called secondary batteries dealing to store energy in small as cell phones, computers and other items electronic devices. Also deal with batteries for the electric mobility. All Park automotive, if it is to change based on combustion to electric power, those who will occupy those cars - and batteries that are already occupying - are lithium-ion batteries.

It is also non-conventional renewable energy storage. Wind power and solar have a factor of one plant, i.e. are intermittent, he is therefore needed to save that energy. Until now they were keeping in battery acid copper, however, last year showed in Australia that it is possible to have batteries that can power a city of 30 thousand people and these energy accumulators are also based on lithium.

Then, the lithium became an energy element. It is no longer a normal non-metallic element, but is an energy element and that is what has made the price of lithium in exponentially grow in recent years.

Then, before such possibilities, why is it important to understand it as a national issue and not only as a business issue?

Mainly because companies today that are entering the electro-mobility - for example, Toyota or Mitsubishi or Tesla-, what interests them is to have a lithium long term insurance provider. How, therefore, gain value with lithium?: getting us into the electric mobility industry. That means that we can enter into agreements with these large companies and tell them that we can provide them with lithium, but that they should put their companies to build batteries here in Chile, with our engineers, with our technicians, with our entrepreneurs, creating an entire industry around it.

Therefore the current companies that exploit lithium in Chile, Albemarle and SQM, have no interest in doing so. These companies sell lithium as carbonate, which is the basic raw material. That way we don't win silver or we put the value that deserve, and therefore what is the order of the day is to nationalize the industry of lithium.

At this time, lithium has become strategic, by what must be done is to put added value to the lithium. These two companies do that, moreover there is a, SQM, which is a corrupt company that has corrupted state powers.

What we lose when you export lithium only as raw material?

If one sells lithium as carbonate, which wins approximately are $ 600 million a year, i.e., it is not. If we increase exploitation, it would be like 1000 or 1500 million dollars a year, similar to what is sold in salmon, so it makes no sense to sell lithium as a raw material. The only thing that makes sense is to sell lithium to serve us from key to enter to the technological advances, and that means that they put the companies here in Chile, making pasta, cathodes for batteries, and which not, cars. That is to think big. That is what should think CORFO, thats what you think about the Government. That is what should be providing our University of Chile as a State University.

With respect to indigenous peoples, is it possible to reconcile this extractive work with a more complex approach?

One can reconcile perfectly to having the will, therefore, any action that is done on salt flats must have consultation and opinion of them. An encroachment has been practically what has been the State with them. In the National Commission of lithium was said clearly that any exploitation of salars and on the lithium contained in them must be in consultation and agreement with indigenous peoples. CORFO has done is really grotesque, because if we want to make the best deal in the world, it has to be in the 21st century, and in the 21st century, the main thing is respect for persons and in particular, in this case, the native peoples and the agreements that the country has taken with the international community, such as Convention No. 169. Then, in that I am in full agreement with what pose the Atacameño communities.

That is a moment of decisions, you ought to be what instances to, jointly, these choices around the lithium?, by where to begin?

In my opinion there begin to take the recommendations of this Commission. This Commission was composed of 25 members from different political sensibilities, technical skills and professional experiences. There is a series of recommendations, among them, develop a policy of lithium and the salt mines. All the agreements that the Commission were unanimous, unlike any of the other committees.