In Chile, the Salar de Atacama hosts intensive lithium mines that support 30% of the global lithium supply.
The drawing of underground water as part of the mining process is so intensive that lagoons in the region have started drying up since mining operations started, destroying local habitats and taking away indigenous farmers’ ability to continue cultivating crops.
Using the concept of solar stills, ETFE membranes stretch to cover the surface of the brine evaporation ponds. Evaporated water collects on the interior surface of the membranes and the condensed water droplets travel down the sides and are collected and stored. The captured water is restored to agents that have been suffering from water loss due to mining operations by creating botanical gardens and lagoons for native biodiversity and farmland for indigenous farmers in the region.
While this project reduces the rate and intensity of lithium operations and follows a logic of de-growth, it helps to rebalance the ecosystem of the Atacama by giving back to those negatively impacted by the water’s extraction, and allows for a more sustainable model of lithium mining as they inevitably expand in the future.