The new lithium mining technology, a hope for the planet

Rio Tinto, General Motors and even the US Department of Energy are investing heavily in a series of new technologies that could revolutionize the way lithium is produced for electric vehicle batteries.

However, these technologies must be proven to work at commercial scale.

If they succeed, miners will be able to increase global lithium production with a footprint far smaller than that of surface mines and evaporation ponds, which are often the size of several football fields and are unpopular with communities. local.

These so-called Direct Lithium Extraction (DLE) technologies extract the white metal from brine using filters, membranes, ceramic beads or other equipment that can usually be housed in a small warehouse. But they often use a lot of potable water and electricity, and none have operated on a commercial scale.

Global automakers, mining companies and investors are pumping millions of dollars into DLE companies, betting they can supply the bulk of the lithium needed to power the electric vehicle revolution.

This is so game changing. There are huge opportunities“Said US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm at an energy conference last month about DLEs.

A very water-intensive process

Berkshire Hathaway has received a $15 million grant to test DLE technology at California’s Salton Sea, under which there are large geothermal lithium deposits.

The technology that General Motors relies on to supply a ‘significant amount’ of its lithium from the Salton Sea region uses 10 tonnes of water for every tonne of lithium produced, raising doubts among the industry.

Desalination technologies are now being considered to filter brackish water to avoid using potable water.

There are dozens of DLE-focused companies around the world.

Direct lithium mining is becoming a hot topic“said Olivier Le Peuch, managing director of Schlumberger, which develops DLE technology with Panasonic. He hopes to supply Tesla’s Gigafactory Nevada, but has acknowledged that he needs to find a way to produce the metal without drinking water.

U.S. and global ambitions to go green are at stake. At least 70% of U.S. lithium deposits are held in brine reserves, according to the Energy Department. Elsewhere, the DLE offers a chance to produce lithium in areas where surface mining faces strong opposition.

Leave a Comment