In the heights of Salta: 380 kilometers of challenges

Find about all the logistics challenges the team has to tackle in El Tolillar, located at 3,600 meters above sea level, lying an eight-hour drive from the provincial city of Salta along narrow, steep mountain roads.

In the salt flats of El Tolillar, in the heart of the Argentine puna or highland eco-region, Alpha Lithium, a Tecpetrol company, is busy developing lithium carbonate deposits, which are a crucial input for the energy transition. This is the powerhouse of the future, under the clear blue skies of northern Argentina, where temperatures at night plummet to 25 degrees below zero and any task involves considerable logistical challenges.

Because El Tolillar is a long way from anywhere: it’s a drive of nearly eight hours from Salta city along gravel roads plagued with sharp stones and clouds of dust, tracks leading upwards to the puna, sprawling arid plains on the second-highest plateau in the world, at a maximum altitude of 4,560 meters. Getting to the puna is no easy task, and neither is ensuring that nothing is missing up there. This is all part and parcel of Santiago Hanza’s daily routine. The Site & Transportation Manager explains that “I’m in charge of camp transfers, so ensuring both driver and truck are fully prepared is vital, as they have to overcome all kinds of adversities along the way.”

The project itself covers everything from building the roads to the salt flats, to the provision of energy to power the operation. Jorge Dimópulos, Vice President Lithium, explains that, “The project will be powered with a combination of thermal energy and electricity. We’re currently analyzing which of these best meets our needs in terms of costs and availability, as there‘s a direct correlation with distance and altitude."

“Since we started working in the puna, firstly with the Olacapato Pilot Plant and now with the camp at El Tolillar, we’ve learned a lot about what it means to work in these conditions. Due to the distance, the condition of the roads and the altitude, nothing is ever as simple as it seems, which is why we always have to have a couple of contingency plans in place,” adds Eduardo Isasmendi, Lithium Operations Sr. Manager. Everything’s different and much more complicated when it’s all so far away. From shipping in food for the kitchens to building water tanks; from road maintenance to running the infirmary, which is in charge of checking that each person is fit for work every day. These are just some of the daily challenges the team has to face at what is Tecpetrol's highest altitude operation.

If you found this article interesting, click here to learn more about the challenges of working at El Tolillar.

Experience at Fortín de Piedra

Energy connects us