Science & Technology

Chile’s science minister: Lithium development can’t come at any cost

By Javier Martin

Santiago, Jul 10 (EFE).- Chile’s science and technology minister warned of the challenges that lithium development entails in an interview with Efe, saying it cannot be done “at any cost.”

Aisen Etcheverry said that industry must take into account the needs of future generations, as well as its impact on the land, nature, climate and nearby communities.

Chile also must be aware that the massive current demand for that ultra-light metal used to make lithium-ion batteries for electric cars and other consumer electronic products “won’t last forever.”

The government is looking to make progress with a “new model of sustainable productive development,” said Etcheverry, who this week will be accompanying Chilean President Gabriel Boric on a visit to Europe.

“And doing so without understanding the desert, its minerals and its microorganisms, or how our communities have evolved. Without understanding in-depth the forests in Valdivia and Patagonia is missing the opportunity to advance in a much more complete way,” she said.


Those concerns and the goal of abandoning the Chilean mining sector’s traditional focus on extractivism and creating an industry with value-added are the guiding principles of the Boric administration’s national lithium strategy.

“Lithium makes up a very small percentage of the content of a salt flat,” she said.

Although lithium mining is an industry that is essential in the battle against climate change globally, its development “can’t come at any cost. It has to allow us as a country to provide opportunity to the future generations.”

“We can’t not ask ourselves what happens with the other minerals of the salt flat, what happens with the microorganisms that live there, what potential they have for other areas of global interest, from health to economic development,” Etcheverry said.

“And those questions that don’t have an answer today are the ones science is asking, the ones that allow us to devise a national lithium strategy that considers the future generations and not just extraction.”

Chile today has a “more mature” industry than when copper extraction began and these concerns have also permeated the private sector, the minister said, adding that this makes her more hopeful about the public-private partnership the government is proposing.


Etcheverry said science in Chile is at a crossroads, with the “same problems as in other parts of the world.”

She said the focus now should be on education and bridging the digital divide so that as a country it can tackle global challenges like the impact of the new technologies and the development of artificial intelligence.

In that regard, she said the Constitutional Council tasked with drafting a new national charter must not squander the opportunity to address matters such as “digital rights” and AI regulation.

“I wouldn’t say that it has to be there or doesn’t, but it’s hard to think that with everything that’s happened this year with artificial intelligence, all the discussions there have been, that some concern wouldn’t be generated among our Constitutional Council members,” Etcheverry said.

In that regard, she said Chile is seeking to implement its own regulation but will also look at what is being done elsewhere by entities such as the European Union and UNESCO, according to the minister. EFE


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