Lithium is mined from three forms of deposits: brines, pegmatites and sedimentary rocks. Right here’s a take a look at lithium brine deposits.
As lithium demand continues to extend resulting from its key position within the lithium-ion batteries used to energy electrical autos, it’s essential for traders within the mineral to take a look on the completely different sort of lithium deposits world wide.
Lithium is mined from three forms of deposits: brines, pegmatites and sedimentary rocks. World lithium reserves are estimated at 21 million metric tons (MT). Continental brines and pegmatites (or exhausting rock ore) are the principle sources for business manufacturing.
A College of Michigan research revealed within the Journal of Industrial Ecology explains, “The feasibility of recovering lithium economically from any deposit depends upon the scale of the deposit, its lithium content material … the content material of different parts and the processes which are used to take away the lithium-bearing materials from the deposit and extract lithium from it.”
Lithium from brine deposits has gained an increasing number of curiosity in recent times on the again of a veritable lithium rush in Nevada. This has largely been pushed by Tesla’s (NASDAQ:TSLA) lithium-ion battery gigafactory, which is simply the primary of many to come back. Nevada can also be residence to Albemarle’s (NYSE:ALB) Silver Peak lithium mine, the one producing lithium brine operation within the US.
Learn on for a quick take a look at lithium brine deposits. You may as well click on right here to learn our overview of lithium pegmatite and sedimentary deposits.
An outline of lithium brine deposits
Usually, lithium extraction from brine sources has confirmed extra economical than manufacturing from exhausting rock ore. Whereas exhausting rock lithium manufacturing as soon as dominated the lithium market, nearly all of lithium carbonate is now produced from continental brines in Latin America. That is primarily as a result of decrease value of manufacturing. That mentioned, Australia was nonetheless the world’s largest lithium producer in 2020 by way of mine output, and most of that got here from the Greenbushes exhausting rock lithium operation.
There are three forms of lithium brine deposits: continental, geothermal and oil discipline. The most typical are continental saline desert basins (often known as salt lakes, salt flats or salars). They’re situated in areas with geothermal exercise and are made up of sand, minerals with brine and saline water with a excessive focus of dissolved salts. A playa is a kind of brine deposit whose floor consists largely of silts and clays; playas have much less salt than a salar.
Lithium brine deposits characterize about 66 % of world lithium assets and are discovered primarily within the salt flats of Chile, Argentina, China and Tibet.
1. Lithium brine deposits: Continental
That is the most typical type of lithium-containing brine. The vast majority of international lithium manufacturing comes from continental lithium brine deposits in what is called the “Lithium Triangle” — a area of the Andes mountains that features components of Argentina, Chile and Bolivia.
The most effective instance is the three,000 sq. kilometer Salar de Atacama in Chile, which has a mean lithium focus of about 0.14 % — the very best identified — and estimated lithium assets of 6.3 million MT. Two of the world’s main lithium producers, Sociedad Quimica y Minera (NYSE:SQM) and Albemarle, function on the Salar de Atacama.
Livent (NYSE:LTHM), which was spun out of FMC (NYSE:FMC) in 2018, produces lithium carbonate from one other world-class lithium brine deposit, Argentina’s Salar del Hombre Muerto. Orocobre (ASX:ORE,OTC Pink:OROCF) is at the moment ramping up manufacturing of lithium at its operations on the neighboring Salar de Olaroz. In the meantime, Australian mining firm Galaxy Sources (ASX:GXY,OTC Pink:GALXF) holds the Sal de Vida challenge in Northwestern Argentina.
Bolivia is residence to the world’s largest deposit of lithium, the Salar de Uyuni, which reportedly comprises as much as 50 to 70 % of identified world reserves. Nevertheless, the percentages of this continental brine seeing business manufacturing are low for a number of causes, together with the truth that Bolivia is eager on preserving its pure assets beneath state management.
Additionally, the deposit has magnesium-to-lithium ratios which are thrice increased than these at Atacama, making it tougher and dear to refine salt into lithium carbonate. Lastly, the evaporation fee at Uyuni is simply 40 % of that at Atacama, which suggests refining could be extra time consuming.
To not point out, the Salar de Uyuni is a significant vacationer attraction — environmental, cultural and financial considerations from locals who rely on the salt flats for tourism might lead to a substantial amount of pink tape.
2. Lithium brine deposits: Geothermal
Geothermal lithium brine deposits make up roughly 3 % of identified international lithium assets and are comprised of a scorching, concentrated saline resolution that has circulated by crustal rocks in areas of extraordinarily excessive warmth move and develop into enriched with parts similar to lithium, boron and potassium. Small portions of lithium are contained in geothermal lithium brines in New Zealand, Iceland and Chile.
The Salton Sea in Southern California is the best-known instance of a geothermal lithium brine deposit. Simbol Supplies, a personal California-based firm, had plans to supply high-purity lithium carbonate from discharge brine borrowed from geothermal crops working on the Salton Sea.
It will have used a novel reverse-osmosis course of to get rid of the necessity for photo voltaic evaporation, making operations extra well timed and price efficient.
For over a 12 months and a half, Simbol validated the method at its demonstration plant in California, and mentioned in January 2015 that it had plans to start development of a large-scale plant. Nevertheless, operations got here to an abrupt halt when the Desert Solar reported that Simbol had fired 38 staff from its demonstration plant at first of February 2015.
At the moment working within the Salton Sea geothermal discipline is Managed Thermal Sources. The corporate is in superior growth of the Hell’s Kitchen Lithium and Energy challenge. The challenge, which has an estimated 30 12 months life, has a complete lithium useful resource capability of 300,000 tonnes per 12 months LCE and whole useful resource capability of 1,100 MW.
Except for these actions, PurLucid Therapy Options has reportedly developed expertise that’s usually used to extract lithium from oil discipline brines, and has tailored it for geothermal brines. It’s regarded as an environmentally pleasant possibility.
Pan Asia Metals (ASX:PAM) is exploring geothermal lithium in a geothermal discipline in Kata Thong within the south of Thailand. The exploration goal is close to an current lithium challenge and a hydropower station.
3. Lithium brine deposits: Oil discipline
Lithium brine deposits can be present in some deep oil reservoirs, accounting for 3 % of identified international lithium assets. North Dakota, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Arkansas and East Texas are residence to grease discipline brines. The Smackover Formation on the US Gulf Coast is believed to carry an estimated 1 million MT of lithium assets at a mean focus of about 0.015 %.
That is an up to date model of an article initially revealed by the Investing Information Community in 2016.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Priscila Barrera, maintain no direct funding curiosity in any firm or commodity talked about on this article.