Part 2 – Technology for Efficient and Sustainable Lithium Production in Chile
Alta Ley Corporation recently released a report called “Technological Strategy for Lithium in Chile”.
The document outlines the main gaps, challenges, and opportunities that the industry faces in matters such as productivity, new technologies, process improvements and sustainability.
The report is meant to act as a “Roadmap” that provides a clear short to medium term plan to help guide the Chilean lithium industry through its next phase of growth. We provided a summary of those goals in our last blog which can be found here.
In the second part of our summary, we are going to focus on the specific technologies that will be needed to ensure the future growth of supply from Chile is both efficient and sustainable.
Technologies for Efficient and Sustainable Production of Lithium
To ensure that lithium production can grow in an efficient and sustainable manner, the industry needs to identify technologies that can improve the relationship between costs and productivity in a sustainable manner, increasing lithium production to respond to the projected growth in demand, with ensure the sustainable supply of natural resources. These technologies will need to be capable of operating in salt flats of different concentrations.
Some of the specific challenges include –
- Scaling up technologies to diversify the sources of lithium exploitation. –Chile has the challenge of producing more lithium through the application of technologies to make new sources of extraction profitable in a sustainable way, either by producing more lithium in the Salar de Atacama or in other salt flats, or developing technological initiatives to recover lithium from waste generated by the extractive activity.
- Improve the recovery percentage of lithium contained in the brine – Given the current rates of recovery, which are currently between 30% and 60% in local operations, there is an opportunity to increase the efficiency in the recovery of lithium contained in the brine that is extracted from the salt flat, in order to achieve a higher profitability in the process.
- Develop production processes of shorter duration in time and stages – Reduce the duration of the lithium recovery and processing process, both in time and in stages, which currently has an average time of 18 months.
- Develop flexible technologies to face adverse climate scenarios and chemically different brines – It consists of developing flexible technologies to process lithium resources from sources with different characteristics or concentrations of elements contained in the brines, which allow operating in environments that present great variability of other species and/or impurities (magnesium and sulfate, among others) that increase the complexity of its extraction and recovery, or in ecosystems where the process of concentrating salts through evaporite technologies is not profitable.
There are currently a series of emerging technologies whose objective is to increase the efficiency levels of the process, reducing brine evaporation rates and increasing lithium recovery, which would potentially allow increasing productivity and profit.
- Extraction of lithium from geothermal brines.
- Lithium extraction with magnets (allows to recover lithium from spent batteries).
- Selective extraction of salts by temperature difference from absorbent liquid.
- Direct extraction by sorption with active solid.
- Processing by solvent extraction.
- Extraction from ion exchange.
- Extraction by nanofiltration membranes.
- Extraction by distillation/crystallization through membranes.
- Extraction by adsorption.
- Extraction by electrodialysis.
- Processing by forced evaporation.
- Extraction by capacitive ionization.
- Extraction through hydrate-based desalination.
- Extraction through electrochemical processes.
- Extraction by molecular recovery technology.
Some of the emerging technologies and/or projects that have been identified are very promising and some are currently being tested in local operations. However, technology providers will need to keep in mind that any solutions they present must overcome some of the following entry barriers to enter the market competitively:
- Be economically viable, and have sufficient flexibility to adapt to sources with low concentrations of lithium and other compounds.
- By competitive with current process whose energy is 95% solar, applied directly to the evaporation process. New technologies must continue to maintain a low energy and carbon footprint.
- Some technologies use chemical additives to cause the selectivity of salts and minerals, which can generate an unwanted impact on the ecosystem where the operations coexist.
- They must be tested with local brine and in real conditions in order to verify their feasibility, and validate their operational and economic efficiency compared to the current process.
- The reinjection of brine treated by these technologies must be feasible and safe to implement.
- The technologies cannot use larger quantities of fresh water in places with high water scarcity.
These roadmaps are particularly important for technology and service providers to help them understand the priorities of the industry and where their solutions can potentially add value. We highly recommend suppliers check out the full report which can find here.
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