Lithium and Chile: looking back and looking forward

  • Philip MaxwellEmail author
  • Mauricio Mora


This paper focuses on the economic fortunes of the Chilean lithium industry over the past three decades and considers its likely future directions. When SQM commissioned its brine extraction facilities in the Salar de Atacama in 1995, joining the already established SCL (operating since 1984), Chile emerged as the world’s leading lithium producer. It retained this position until 2013 when Australian production surpassed it. Chile, Australia and Argentina now dominate the early stages of the lithium industry. Four multinational companies—Albemarle, SQM, FMC Corporation and Tianqi Lithium—accounted for more than 83% of world lithium output in 2016. These firms appear to exert considerable market power. Against this background, we outline and assess recent developments in the Chilean lithium sector, noting that the second Bachelet government (in office from 2014 to early 2018) convened a year-long National Lithium Commission in 2014. The members of this group suggested strategies to maintain and enhance Chile’s competitive advantage in the lithium sector. The final section considers the implementation of these in the light of the election of the second Piñera administration which took office in March 2018.


Chile Lithium Collusive behaviour Vertical integration Horizontal integration Value adding Market power Mineral policy 

JEL classification

L0 L1 L720 L11 D430 



The authors wish to acknowledge the contribution and inspiration of our late colleague and good friend, Christian Moscoso Wallace from Universidad de Chile, in developing our interest in this field.

Supplementary material

13563_2019_181_MOESM1_ESM.docx (126 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 126 kb)


  1. Albemarle (2016) Albemarle signs agreement for exclusive exploration and acquisition rights to lithium resources in Argentina, 12 September. (downloaded from on 14 June 2018)
  2. CORFO (2017) Web page,
  3. Desormeau D (2015) What to expect from the Chilean lithium industry following the National Commission’s advancement plan, 7th Lithium supply and markets conference, Shanghai, 16–18 JuneGoogle Scholar
  4. Ebensperger A (2017) Important facts in the lithium industry in Chile, 9th Lithium Supply and Markets Conference, Montreal, 30 May – 1 June, 2017Google Scholar
  5. Ebensperger A, Maxwell P, Moscoso C (2005) The lithium industry: its recent evolution and future prospects. Res Policy 30:218–231CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Galaxy Resources (2019) Home page,
  7. Garnaut R, Clunies Ross A (1983) The taxation of mineral rents. Clarendon Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  8. Gobierno de Chile, Comision Nacional del Litio (2015) Informe Final. Somos Ministeria de Minas, Santiago 98 pGoogle Scholar
  9. Jamasmie C (2018) Lithium becomes Chile’s No 4 export,, 10 July
  10. Lagos G (2012) El Desarrollo del Litio en Chile:1984–2012, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, 15 August, 62 pGoogle Scholar
  11. Lagos G (2018) Mining nationalization and privatization in Peru and in Chile. Miner Econ 31:127–139CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Lazenby H (2018) Relaxed export, production quotas an ‘inflection point’ for Chile’s lithium industry, 16 March,
  13. Lithium Americas (2017) Investor presentation, November, (Downloaded from )
  14. Lithium Power International (2018) Developing Chile’s next lithium mine: fully funded to final investment decisión, February, (Downloaded from )
  15. Lombrana L, Gilbert J (2017) It’s hard to keep up with all that lithium demand, Bloomberg NEF, BlogGoogle Scholar
  16. Maxwell P (2015) Transparent and opaque pricing: the interesting case of lithium. Res Policy 45:92–97CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Meller P (1996) Un siglo de economía política chilena 1890–2000. Andres Bello, SantiagoGoogle Scholar
  18. Meller P (2013) La viga Maestra y el sueldo de Chile. Uqbar Editores, SantiagoGoogle Scholar
  19. Minerobarometro (2017) Chile mining survey. Mori Chile S.A. and Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, SantiagoGoogle Scholar
  20. Moscoso C (2010) Cooperación científica y técnica e intercambio de técnica e intercambio de información entre países información entre países miembros de CEPAL, Senior Expert Group Meeting on Sustainable Development of Lithium Resources in Latin America: Emerging Issues and Opportunities, November 10–11, SantiagoGoogle Scholar
  21. Nemaska Lithium (2018) The Ni 43–101 technical report: feasibility study Whabouchi lithium mine and Shawinigan electrochemical plant, 21 FebruaryGoogle Scholar
  22. Orocobre (2017) Quarterly activities report for the period ending September 2017, (downloaded from on 21 November)
  23. Perotti R, Coviello M (2015) Governance of strategic minerals in Latin America: the case of lithium. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), SantiagoGoogle Scholar
  24. Pilbara Minerals (2017) Pilgangoora – the world’s leading lithium development project Benchmark Minerals World Tour, September. Powerpoint presentationGoogle Scholar
  25. Shabalala Z (2018) Solid demand to underpin lithium as price slides in 2018, Bloomberg, 17 SeptemberGoogle Scholar
  26. Stewardson R (1992) Value adding in Australia, ABARE Outlook 92, Conference Proceedings, Canberra, FebruaryGoogle Scholar
  27. Tilton J (2004) Determining the optimal tax on mining. Nat Res Forum 28(2):144–149CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Tilton J (2018) Assessing the market power of mineral commodity producers. Miner Econ 31:71–76. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Tilton J, Guzmán JI (2016) Mineral economics and policy. RFF Press, New York 255pCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. United States Geological Survey (various years a) Mineral Commodity Summaries, Washington. (see
  31. United States Geological Survey (various years b) Minerals Yearbook, Washington. (see
  32. Yaksic A, Tilton J (2009) Using the cumulative availability curve to assess the threat of mneral depletion. Res Policy 34:185–194CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Zuleta JC (2015) Final report of the National Lithium Commission of Chile, EV World Blog, 2 February, (Downloaded on 30 July 2018 from

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Science and EngineeringCurtin UniversityPerthAustralia
  2. 2.Nexis Consulting SPASantiagoChile

Personalised recommendations