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Lithium Brine Extraction Technology
By: International Battery Metals on Feb 9, 2022 10:00:00 AM
The demand for lithium has been steadily increasing due to the reliance on battery powered technology in our everyday life, environmental concerns, and the emergence of the electric vehicle industry.
Sources of Lithium
Earth's sources of lithium are found all across the globe in different compositions with differing concentrations, but the cost of extracting and refining the lithium can restrict the possibility of mining certain sources.
Depending on where and how lithium is mined will determine the cost of the operation and it's environmental impact.
A large portion of the world's commercial lithium comes from mining spodumene, or a hard rock pegmatite found in Australia and other places. The spodumene rock has to be extensively treated with chemical processes to extract commercial-grade lithium.
This method is costly and can be disastrous for the environment as it creates a lot of chemical waste and pollution.
Lithium Extraction from Brine Solutions
Another primary method for extracting lithium is from brine water solutions.
These types of lithium-rich brines can be found in South America around what's called 'The Lithium Triangle', or the area where Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina meet.
Lithium extraction from brines is more economically feasible for producers as opposed to spodumene mining, and the technology behind lithium brine extraction is continuously evolving to provide an array of benefits spanning beyond the profit margin.
Traditional Lithium Brine Extraction Issues
The evaporation method is traditionally how lithium is extracted from brine water. This method involves pumping the brine water from the salar (salt flat) into large ponds where evaporation can take place resulting in piles of salt from which lithium is then extracted using a series of treatments and processing.
While this method has sufficed up to this point, it has also brought problematic issues with it.
The first issue with the evaporation method is that it takes a long time to actually evaporate the water. It usually takes a year or more to fully evaporate, so the time-to-market for this method of production could be extended, not to mention the time it takes to build the operations plant before the water can even be pumped.
The second issue with the evaporation method is that it is notorious for destroying the salar's natural environment by leaving piles of salt around. Moreover, the brine water that is pumped from the ground has now been evaporated into thin air, so the nearby inhabitants who rely on this source of water must now find other sources of water in an already scarce environment.
The next issue with the evaporation method is the processing and harsh chemical treatments that the salts from the salar must go through in order to produce commercial-grade lithium.
The purification process for lithium results in chemical waste which usually ends up in ponds (which inevitably seep into the ground water and end up polluting the rivers and other bodies of water where they end up.
Direct Lithium Extraction
At a time where the demand of lithium is skyrocketing and traditional extraction methods are becoming obsolete, an innovative technology emerges which alleviates all of the issues of the evaporation method: Direct Lithium Extraction.
Direct Lithium Extraction is patented technology created by the Godfather of Lithium, Dr. John Burba, which utilizes a mobile plant design, so the time it takes to start producing lithium is significantly shorter than larger plant designs.
Also, Direct Lithium Extraction is a process that doesn't rely on the sun to evaporate water, it uses a much quicker process that attracts lithium molecules while rejecting impurities such as magnesium or calcium.
Since the technology rejects the impurities, there is less purification processing needed which translates to less chemical waste and pollution from the lithium extraction process.
Direct Lithium Extraction actually recycles over 90% of the brine water back into the salar, relieving any concerns about groundwater consumption.
On top of all of this, Direct Lithium Extraction's technology produces recovery rates of lithium much higher than traditional methods, so the quality of the actual product is much higher with all of the previous issues resolved in a process that is faster, more economic, and more environmentally friendly on all fronts.
The Future of Lithium
Lithium holds the power to innovate the way we power the technology we need every day, so the technology behind the manufacturing of commercial-grade lithium must be able to handle the demand of lithium.
Direct Lithium Extraction will be the key to effectively answering the global demand for lithium with a process that is economic as well as ecofriendly.
Investing in lithium means investing in the sustainable practices of providing clean and renewable energy. Every day, society moves closer to green energy sources and technology that preserve the global ecosystem and provide reliable energy to the devices that connect the world.
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