Friday, June 23, 2023

"Fast, low-cost direct lithium extraction..."

Their headline mentions a "supply crisis" but there won't be a supply crisis. Cost crisis perhaps but that would just lead to the substitution effects that have tripped up commodity speculators for millennia. 

From New Atlas, June 23:!/quality/90/?

Canadian company Volt Lithium has developed and pilot-tested a new low-cost lithium extraction method to pull this critical battery metal out of low-concentration brines. Now it plans to turn old oil fields into lithium production operations. 

As the global transition to electric vehicles gathers momentum, and power grids worldwide turn to huge banks of batteries to balance demand against the intermittent supply of renewables, the world is going to need unprecedented amounts of lithium to fuel its insatiable hunger for batteries.  

We've written before that many people are expecting a lithium squeeze in the coming decade; it takes around 13 years to start up a new mining operation, for example, and the International Energy Agency projects that existing mines and brine projects, plus those currently under construction, are only going to deliver about half of the projected demand.

Direct Lithium Extraction (DLE) offers a "potentially revolutionary" way to quickly and cheaply boost production from brine "much like shale did for oil," according to a Goldman Sachs report from April

The typical way to extract lithium from salty groundwater brine is to pump it up from underground, then sit it in gigantic ponds on the surface. Over the course of a year or more, the Sun gently evaporates the water away until the lithium concentration can be precipitated out with chemical reagents and processed into lithium carbonate or hydroxide for sale. Operating this way, you can extract 40-60% of the lithium in your brine at a cost between US$3,300 and US$4,900 per metric ton of lithium carbonate equivalent....


Brine really is easy compared to hard rock mining. And it sounds like Volt may be on to something. Taking the salty water idea to the next level, Saudi Arabia is working on a process to desalinate seawater while extracting hydrogen and lithium. It works on the lab bench but as with all this stuff scaling up is the tricky part.

Back to extracting lithium from hard rock (the mineral is spodumene). From  911 Metallurgist: Processing Spodumene by Froth Flotation for Lithium Extraction

Even when I'm away I'm thinking of you:
"Lithium prices diverge and defy expectations as new EV trends unfold"

....Now, if you will excuse me I will explore the energy intensity of roasting spodumene vs. other extraction methods. (it's pretty energy intensive, to effect the phase transformation from α-spodumene to β-spodumene you have to crank the oven up to 1050°C, then acid wash it, then roast it again at 200°C. Season to taste and wow your guests)