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SQM poised to surpass Albemarle as world's top lithium producer by 2022

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SQM poised to surpass Albemarle as world's top lithium producer by 2022

Chilean lithium miner Sociedad Quimica y Minera de Chile SA, or SQM, is poised to surpass Albemarle Corp. as the world's top producer of the commodity by 2022, with output capacity expected to increase to 28% of the global total against U.S.-based Albemarle's 16% by that time, Reuters reported Aug. 8, citing SQM Vice President Daniel Jimenez.

SQM expects capacity increases at its Chilean operations and new projects in Australia and Argentina to help it vault past Albemarle as the top global producer of lithium.

Jimenez said that based on the company's data, Albemarle has the capacity to produce 29% of the global total, compared to SQM's 23% capacity.

The two leading global lithium miners are in a race to increase production in Chile's Salar de Atacama amid a boost in demand for the commodity tied to the emerging electric vehicle industry. Jimenez expects global lithium production capacity to more than triple to 735,000 tonnes by 2022 as a result.

SQM sought approval in July for a two-phase US$450 million expansion of its Salar del Carmen lithium carbonate plant, aiming to increase annual output nearly threefold to 180,000 tonnes from 70,000 tonnes.

Earlier in the year, Albemarle secured approval to increase its annual production quota to about 145,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate equivalent through 2043. More recently, its Talison Lithium Ltd. joint venture, which is 51%-owned by Chengdu Tianqi Industry Group Co. Ltd., approved a A$516 million expansion of the Greenbushes lithium operation in Western Australia.

Albemarle booked an attributable net income of US$302.5 million for the second quarter, nearly tripling its profit year over year on a robust performance from its lithium segment.

S&P Global Market Intelligence recently found that rising global demand for battery metals has triggered a surge in exploration and development activities at lithium assets in recent years.