Could Coal Become A Major Source Of Lithium? Geochemists Think So

APR 6 2015 BY MARK KANE 19

2016 Chevy Volt Batteries Features New Chemistry And A 18.4 kWh Pack

Time for some coal batteries

Scientists from Hebei University of Engineering in China are developing methods of extracting lithium from coal.

An article presenting the idea was published in the International Journal of Oil, Gas and Coal Technology.

Lithium is one of elements needed in lithium-ion batteries. Annual worldwide consumption already grew from 15,100 tonnes in 2012 to 37,000 tonnes in 2013 and is moving upwards fast.

The world currently has enough lithium to produce batteries, but wouldn’t it be cool to find way to “change” coal into lithium?

“Shenjun Qin of Hebei University of Engineering, in Handan, China, and colleagues point out that coal is a highly polluting energy source that is still widely used for electricity generation and other applications. They suggest that the recovery of valuable rare metals from coals or coal-processing byproducts could be a promising way to make the inevitable long-term use of this fossil fuel resource more economic, efficient and cleaner. Indeed, the extraction of lithium from coal would offer an ironic twist to its continued use.

The team explains that lithium has been found dispersed and even anomalously enriched in coal deposits, and is potentially extractable. They explain that two analytical techniques inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) and inductively coupled plasma as an excitation source (ICP-AES) are widely used for assaying the chemical elements in coal and coal ash and either of these techniques could be used widely to optimize sources for lithium, or any given metal, for subsequent extraction.

The team has also reviewed two techniques for lithium extraction. The first, a patented technology for extracting both lithium and aluminum metals from coal ash involves sulfur sintering the ash and acid leaching the metal from the solution to obtain lithium carbonate in a yield of 95.6 percent, actually recovery of the metal is 60 percent. The second approach, alkali sintering avoids the need for the sulfur step but has a lower yield at 85.3 percent and a recovery of 55 percent.

“Although the investigation into lithium recovery from coal ash is still at a laboratory scale,” the team reports. “This progress will promote the green and efficient application of coals and would benefit to the lithium-demanding industry.”

Source: Science Spot via Green Car Congress

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19 Comments on "Could Coal Become A Major Source Of Lithium? Geochemists Think So"

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“grew from 15,100 tonnes in 2013 to 37,000 tonnes in 2012”

Say what? Lithium consumption went back in time? Or is that BCE?


“This progress will promote the green and efficient application of coals”

This is a shameless attempt at green-washing the use of coal. It is disappointing to see it promoted on this site.

I don’t see it that way at all. Believe me, I’m not the most popular commenter here ( close…lol ), but I see this as informative and uplifting – as those EV haters cannot claim that they are “just powered by coal” and have that be a bad thing.

I hope this turns out to be a major use of coal processing byproducts.

Clearly this is not meant as a production process, rather a process for reducing particular matter that are currently emitted as waste products. The is a huge drive for China the clean its air … Li is just one of many elements good and bad the are dispersed as mico-particles.

Likely lithium is viewed as one of the more valuable elements to be captured, Costs to recover likely wont compete with other sources, but will help offset some of the coal emission cleaning costs.

FYI: the most economical emissions cleaning process is not to burn coal. It’s much cleaner to convert chemically into hydrocarbons (H-C) using steam in a closed loop system. The hydrocarbons can then be burn to make CxO & HxO which have less impact on environment.

“…a lower yield at 85.3 percent and a recovery of 55 percent.”

What’s missing here is any info or even a guess as to what the price per ton would be. The fact that there is no mention leads me to suspect rather strongly that this can’t compete on cost with evaporative “refining” from brine, which is the current major source of lithium for EV batteries. Lithium isn’t a particularly rare element, so the percentage recovery isn’t all that important when compared to the cost per ton of the refined product.

There have been a lot of articles on the supposed future scarcity of lithium, but the more one looks into the true situation, the more it appears that lithium can be found almost anywhere, and the more it looks like those who are promoting the idea want to sell you stock in speculative mineral exploration companies… a category with far more stock swindles than -any- other type of stock.

Perhaps yes, but then again no. Coal remains something that should be left in the ground as oxygen stripped carbon dioxide where it belongs. So any use of it or any further economic incentive to dig should be avoided.


They also didn’t say what they were going to do with the uranium, mercury, etc., that comes along with coal mining / burning. :p

I guess the good news here is that we could probably get more Li than we’d ever need if we could extract it just from existing coal ash heaps. We don’t need to burn any more, I’m guessing.

If waste products such as coal ash or coal mine tailings were the intended source, then wouldn’t the article have said so? If I was promoting the idea, it would be one of the very first things I’d say!

I guess you didn’t read the article then. It specifically said “coal ash” as well as”coal-processing byproducts”. It may not have been in the title but it was definitely there.


You’re absolutely right. My bad; thank you for the correction.

If anyone wants to know a green use for fossil oil – just google what won the UNESCO science price back in 1976.

Alfred Champagnat found a method to transform fossil oil into food. No joke!

And people complain that bio ethanol fuel consumption will result in food shortages…


more atmospheric CO2 is highly beneficial to life on earth. Where do you think all that sequestered CO2 in coal came from. People have really bought into the idiocy of demonizing CO2 without any scientific evidence.

Now Shawn, don’t confuse the issue with the truth.

Oops I just realized that was ambiguous. Its a tongue-in-cheek way of agreement with you.

Now, now, it must be right since otherwise why would Al Gore have made a few hundred million dollars on it? The fact that his movie has been banned to British school kids without extra information is substantially unknown in the US.

Its good for the EV industry anyway since Carbon Credits/ Zev credits pay for a lot of EV’s. ICE drivers usually don’t know that they are subsidizing EV’s, so since they don’t know about it they aren’t mad about it.

I look at it this way: they get their free sports stadiums which I rarely use and would freely pay the full price the few times I go, and they pay for the EV’s. So, its not a perfect world, but for once I’m getting a small benefit from the gov’t. I sure pay enough for it otherwise.

Uh, small point but the CO2 isn’t in the coal. The confusion here is everybody calling CO2 “Carbon”.

I don’t call it water anymore. I call water “Hydrogen”, since doing that is more correct than calling Carbon Dioxide “Carbon”. It would be more correct to call it “Oxygen”.

So instead of that dangerous dirty “Carbon” , substitude dangerous dirty “Oxygen”, since that’s what it mostly is.

Purists will say thats not exactly true, which it isn’t, but then people don’t know what a chemical compound is in general anyway.