Chile’s Atacama Desert is the driest place on earth by rainfall. It’s a vast, barren wasteland better suited to vicunas than humans.
As it happens, the Atacama is also packed full of minerals that have seeped into the ground from the Andes Mountains over millions of years. This has left Chile with the world’s largest deposits of lithium, the key element in the batteries that go into our smartphones, laptops, and electric cars.
Ashlee Vance, the host of Hello World, recently traveled to the Atacama to see how the lithium mining operations of local giant SQM operate. Vance discovered mile upon strange mile of beautiful evaporation ponds that produce salt as a waste product and then gallons of oily, liquid lithium to be loaded on trucks for processing.