Sociedad Química y Minera

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Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile S.A
Sociedad Anónima
Traded as BCS: SQM-A, SQM-B
Industry Chemicals & Mining
Founded June 11th, 1968
Headquarters Santiago, Chile
Key people
Eugenio Ponce Lerou, (Chairman)
Patricio de Solminihac (CEO)
Products Industrial chemical
Specialty Plant Nutrition
Revenue Increase US$ 2.4 billion (2012)
Increase US$ 649.2 million (2012)
Number of employees

Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile (SQM) is a Chilean chemical company and a supplier of plant nutrients, iodine, lithium and industrial chemicals. It is the world’s biggest lithium producer.[1]

SQM's natural resources and its main production facilities are located in the Atacama Desert between Chile's I and II regions.


SQM, the latest guise of an Anglo-Chilean Nitrate and Railway Company which had been formed by London businessmen in 1882, was founded in 1968 to reorganize the Chilean nitrate industry. Initially, its ownership was shared between the Chilean state and the Compañía Nitratera Anglo Lautaro S.A. During a second phase of reorganisation, the industry was nationalised, and was thus fully owned by the Chilean state. In response to the 1970s wave of neoliberalism, a process of privatisation started in 1983 and was successfully completed in 1988.

Maria Elena – Tocopilla railway[edit]

Barriles station
GE 289A "Boxcab" engines built in the 1920s, some of the world's oldest locomotives still in commercial use
GE U20C arriving at Barriles

To transport nitrates from its mines to the port, SQM operated a 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) gauge railway from María Elena to Tocopilla. The railway consisted of two sections; a diesel line to Barriles (parts of which were once electrified), and an electrified line down to Tocopilla, which was very steep at around 4%, and included a switchback (locomotives were run around the train). All trains changed locomotives at Barriles. Per year, the railway transported 1.1 million tons of finished product to the port of Tocopilla and 12 million tons of caliche ore from various mining sites to the Pedro de Valdivia plant.[2]

In August 2015 unprecedented flash flooding caused numerous washouts on the electric section of the railroad, most notably the area around the switchback on the escarpment leading down to the port at Tocopilla. As a result of this, along with the closure of the Pedro Valdivia mine/plant, the railroad ceased all operations, both electric and diesel, in late November 2015. All railroad staff were laid off and all railroad equipment stored at Tocopilla and Maria Elena awaiting possible sale or scrapping. The end of a historic railway. Trucks are now hauling product from Maria Elena/Coya Sur plants to the port.

"The SQM Affair"[edit]

People associated with former senior managers in the company were in 2016 and 2017 investigated by the Chilean national police in relation to allegations of tax evasion and bribery. This investigation was referred to by La Nación, a major Chilean newspaper, as "the SQM Affair".[3]


External links[edit]