SQM begins testing electric truck for logistics

The Chilean chemical company SQM is initiating the test run of an electric truck in the company’s logistics. The model is an electric 28-tonne truck from the Chinese manufacturer Yutong with a range of around 200 kilometres. According to the company, many more electric trucks could follow.

The e-truck is to start its service in the logistics of the South American lithium production of SQM (Sociedad Química and Minera de Chile). Specifically, the Yutong vehicle with the sprawling type designation ZKH5310ZLJP6BEV is to be used in the group’s operations in the Antofagasta region in northern Chile, where the electric-powered 28-tonne truck with a 422-kWh battery pack on board will in future cover an 86-kilometre trunk route. The aim is to test the technology and gradually replace heavy diesel trucks with electric trucks, SQM informs.

According to the Chilean company, this is the first electric truck with a high tonne load to enter service in the Chilean mining sector. Project partner Enel X will contribute a 150 kW charging station to the project at the Coya Sur plant in María Elena. The eMobility offshoot of the Italian energy company Enel is already present in Latin America with several projects. The initiators of the electric truck test run now calculate that the Yutong vehicle should cover an estimated 7,500 kilometres per month on the commute between the Coya Sur plant and the port of Tocopilla. This could avoid around twelve tonnes of CO2 per year, they say.

“This initiative is part of our Corporate Sustainability Plan. Together with other goals and environmental commitments, it is designed to make the company carbon neutral by 2040,” explains José Miguel Berguño, SQM’s Senior Vice President of Nitrate Operations. Other measures already initiated include an off-grid charging station at the Carmen lithium chemical plant and the establishment of maintenance workshops for electric vehicles.

If the project yields promising results, the companies plan to include the route from Salar de Atacama to the Carmen lithium production site in the initiative. This is the most heavily used route in the course of lithium production, with 230 trucks in use there, SQM says. Over a period of five years, it is conceivable to replace 320 heavy diesel trucks with electric vehicles, of which 90 alone could be on the route described at the beginning of the debut electric truck.

SQM is known to be one of Chile’s largest lithium producers, and since 2018 the Chinese group Tianqi has held a stake in the company, which is based in northern Chile. SQM extracts its lithium and potassium products from the brine of the Salar de Atacama. For the lithium, the saline brine is pumped from a depth of 1.5 to 150 metres into extraction basins. The extraction itself takes place in a multi-stage evaporation and purification process.

At the beginning of the year, SQM booked a major order that is significant for the company: in January, the Chilean company signed a long-term agreement with LG Energy Solution to supply lithium products. Under the contract, which runs from 2021 to 2029, SQM is to supply not only lithium hydroxide but also lithium carbonate to LG ES. The order volume is stated to be approximately 55,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE). This will make LG Energy Solutions by far the SQM’s most important customer, it was said at the time.



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