SANTIAGO, May 18 (Reuters) - Chile's SQM said it was planning to expand its production of critical rechargeable battery ingredient lithium, as demand continues to rocket on the back of its increased use in electric vehicles and mobile phones.
SQM has access to vast mineral reserves in the so-called 'lithium triangle' in Chile and Argentina and is one of the world's leading producers of the material.
"So far in 2017, we have seen stronger lithium demand growth than we previously expected, and now estimate that demand growth should reach approximately 14 percent this year," said Chief Executive Patricio de Solminihac as the company announced first-quarter results.
As a result, SQM planned to increase its lithium carbonate capacity in Chile to 63,000 tonnes per year from the current 48,000, he said. That would require investment of $50 million, he added.
Fast-growing prices for lithium and expectations of a tight market for some years has attracted a host of junior miners to the lithium triangle, but for now the industry is dominated by SQM and U.S. firms Albemarle and FMC.
SQM, which is also an important producer of fertilizers and iodine, reported net income of $103.2 million in the three months to end-March, up from $58.5 million a year ago.
Reporting by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by Bernard Orr