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Extracting riches from a Dead Man's Salt Flat

The 'lithium triangle' of Argentina, Bolivia and Chile holds the world's largest reserves of lithium, a key component in batteries that power cell phones, laptops - even electric cars. The raw material is extracted from Chile's Atacama salt flat and the Salar del Hombre Muerto, or Dead Man’s Salt Flat, in Argentina.

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An aerial view of the brine pools and processing areas of the Soquimich lithium mine on the Atacama salt flat, the largest lithium deposit currently in production, in the Atacama desert of northern Chile, Jan. 10, 2013. These brine pools currently fill about 40 per cent of the world’s lithium demand.

IVAN ALVARADO/REUTERS

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A worker protects his face from the sun as he inspects machinery at the Rockwood Lithium plant on the Atacama salt flat. Argentina, Chile and Bolivia hold the planet’s largest reserves of lithium, the world’s lightest metal.

IVAN ALVARADO/REUTERS

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A view of samples of lithium carbonate processed from the Rockwood Lithium mine. Industrial production from countries in the so-called ‘lithium triangle’ is already high: Chile is the world’s leading source of lithium, turning out around 40 per cent of global supply, and Argentina is also a significant producer.

IVAN ALVARADO/REUTERS

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An aerial view of the brine pools and processing areas of the Soquimich lithium mine on the Atacama salt flat. Bolivia, which has an estimated 50 per cent of the world’s lithium reserves, opened its first lithium pilot plant in January, 2013.

IVAN ALVARADO/REUTERS

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Overview of a mining camp on the Salar del Hombre Muerto, or Dead Man’s Salt Flat, about 4,000 metres above sea level on the border of the northern Argentine provinces of Catamarca and Salta.

ENRIQUE MARCARIAN/REUTERS

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Braulio Lopez, of Galaxy Resources' lithium mining division, carts halite concentrate, commonly known as rock salt, that contains lithium at the Salar del Hombre Muerto.

ENRIQUE MARCARIAN/REUTERS

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Braulio Lopez, right, and Ramon Calpanchay of Galaxy Resources shovel halite concentrate.

ENRIQUE MARCARIAN/REUTERS

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A view of a brine pool and pumps at the Rockwood Lithium plant on the Atacama salt flat. Some refer to the three-country triangle as the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” believing the metal could be used to produce clean energy once the world’s petroleum supplies are exhausted.

IVAN ALVARADO/REUTERS

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A llama stands next to a cactus growing on Incahuasi Island above the Uyuni salt lake, which holds the world's largest reserves of lithium, about 3,650 metres above sea level in southwestern Bolivia.

DAVID MERCADO/REUTERS

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A worker from Galaxy Resources' lithium mining division puts on a mask before going to work at the Salar del Hombre Muerto.

ENRIQUE MARCARIAN/REUTERS

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Geologist Mariela Hoyos, left, and her assistant Lucindo Lamas of Galaxy Resources adjust the flow of brine from the Salar del Hombre Muerto.

ENRIQUE MARCARIAN/REUTERS

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Laboratory technicians Gabriela Torrez, left, and Bernabe Apaza analyze brine samples at the lithium pilot plant on the southern edge of the Uyuni salt lake.

DAVID MERCADO/REUTERS

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Tourists prepare for a picnic on the Uyuni salt lake, which holds the world’s largest reserves of lithium. The area's solitude and silence make it attractive to tourists and hikers.

DAVID MERCADO/REUTERS

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A view of the crystallized surface of the Uyuni salt lake.

DAVID MERCADO/REUTERS

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A worker for Rockwood Lithium walks among sacks of lithium carbonate produced from the Atacama salt flat.

IVAN ALVARADO/REUTERS

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Engineer Martin Marquez of Galaxy Resources lithium mining division checks a concentration of halite at the Salar del Hombre Muerto.

ENRIQUE MARCARIAN/REUTERS

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A view over Dead Man's Salt Flat, where the surface reflects a blinding light that makes for magnificent sunrises and sunsets.

ENRIQUE MARCARIAN/REUTERS

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