Lithium Production Via Brine Extraction To Increase In EV Push


Production and sales of Lithium Carbonate Equivalent (LCE) is expected to grow exponentially in the following years

According to Roskill Information Services, the lithium industry will need to increase production by nearly 100 metric kilotons of new lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE) per year by 2027 just to meet the demand driven by the global electric car industry. With the shift to electric vehicles happening rather quickly, these reports may even be off target – the production and sales growth may continue exponentially in the following years.

The level of global lithium resources has increased substantially over the recent few years. This is mostly thanks due to the increase in explorational activity and the higher lithium prices, pushed on by the increased demand. The collective lithium resource and reserves of assets tracked within Roskill’s Lithium Cost Model Service has risen by some 75% since end-2014 and continues to grow. The lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE) is mined from either mineral operations or Brine deposits, two similar, but rather different mining operations.

Increased exploration investments in the lithium mining sector

With the steady stream of investments becoming available thanks to the improved cost-benefit of lithium mining – mostly due to higher prices – we’ve seen a rise in explorational activity in the mineral sector. Unlike brine deposits – which are the easiest mining operations available – lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE) mined from mineral reserves are only economically viable at these, higher prices.

Hence, the hunt for lithium-bearing pegmatites in Australia, Canada, and Europe, joined by the quest for more ore to be drawn from lithium-bearing clay deposits in the US and Mexico, have all contributed to the collective lithium resource reserve. Additionally, brine resources have also grown, especially in South America. Argentina, a nation that saw the most activity of the three countries covering the lithium triangle in South America, has contributed heavily to the global lithium resource availability.

 Economically viable extraction of lithium carbonate equivalent

The global resources of contained lithium carbonate equivalent currently exceed 200 Mt. Roskill predicts that lithium demand will skyrocket by 2027 to a staggering 1.0 Mt LCE. But, due to the general low grade of these lithium deposits pose greater economic challenges to the lithium mining industry. When the source of lithium supply comes into play, for the past two decades, brine deposits were the main source of lithium globally. Now, with increased prices, the dynamic has slowly shifted towards the mineral based sources.

This is mostly fueled thanks to a new wave of Australian mineral projects coming online. Consequently, over two-thirds of lithium mine supply in 2018 is expected to come from the mineral sector. While this predominance of mineral production of lithium is expected to continue, even with a mineral production capacity currently notably greater that of brine, the cost structure of the industry, the volume of capacity currently being ramped up and the nature of the mining sector, this isn’t reasonable to expect to continue.

Prior to 2015 (the point at which lithium carbonate prices rallied above $5,000/t) for example, the Talison Lithium’s Greenbushes mine, featuring a favorable grade and strip ratio, was the only economically viable major hard-rock operation in the world that was able to compete with the lower-cost brine operations in the production of refined lithium product. Now, the story is a bit different.

Future will be dominated by Brine extraction of lithium carbonate equivalent

While the current investment cases put spodumene hard-rock projects above Brine mining and other non-pegmatitic deposits, brine and integrated-mineral projects, in general, have a significantly longer operating lives. In turn, that makes them a more viable long-term investment. The industry is looking for ever more lithium carbonate equivalent, the battery production is growing rapidly, and, thanks to increased demand for both personal and commercial all-electric vehicles, long-term lithium producing mine operations will be the more feasible option.

Source: Green Car Congress

Categories: Battery Tech, General

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“Lithium Production To Shift From Mineral To Brine In EV Push”

I question the headline makes sense. The majority of lithium already comes from brine extraction, not from mining minerals. I think it would make more sense if the headline read “Lithium Production from Brine to Expand in EV Push”.

A relevant quote:

Nearly one-half of the world’s lithium production comes from lithium brines in an Andes mountains’ region encompassing parts of Argentina, Chile and Bolivia (no current production). This area is often referred to as the “Lithium Triangle”… With its cost advantage over mineral-based production, brine producers lowered prices to gain market share, resulting in closure of mineral conversion plants in the USA, Russia and China.


I agree that it’s somewhat confusing. The source article makes the situation more clear: while in the past most Lithium came from brine, recently development happened mostly in hard rock mineral, and apparently it now surpasses brine. However, since brine is cheaper long-term, focus of future development is expected to shift back to brine in the long term…

I agree. The headline and the article don’t make sense. Both need to be re-worded.

Um, nobody is extracting “lithium carbonate equivalent”… LCE is an abstract concept for comparing lithium content in different deposits, not an actual substance.

There was some discussion from Tesla about offering a green option for Tesla buyers of a car with a battery partially made from lithium extracted from seawater. It is supposed to cost more but the source is much more abundant. Also, there were reports of possibly the largest deposits in the world of lithium yet to explored in Afghanistan.

Has the lithium-from-seawater technique been developed into a commercial operation? I read about that Japanese invention several years ago. At that time it wouldn’t have been cost-effective. But perhaps the rising demand for EV batteries has pushed the price of lithium up far enough that the process is now commercially competitive?

Last time I saw it mentioned, it was “maybe, some day”…

Green as in ecological? I have a hard time believing the more involved process of extracting from seawater is actually more ecological…

A “metric ton” is spelled “tonne”. Drop the confusing, seldom used and misspelled “kiloton” and just say 100,000 metric tonnes.

A metric ton is the equivalent of a tonne – but it is not ‘spelled’ that way in the US in combination with ‘metric’.
Metric ton = tonne = 1000 kg.

What is pegmatite? Any hard-rock lithium mining I’ve ever heard of extracts spodumene. I certainly wouldn’t say that hard-rock mining and pumping salar brines is “similar”. A more pressing difference is processing and final purity. It may be cheap to pump brines, but it is slow to concentrate using solar ponds. An integrated mine-processing plant can be more efficient. Electrolysis, given cheap electricity, is another alternative to chemical processing and potentially yields more valuable high-purity LiOH. Every project is different and blanket statements are not useful.

“This is mostly fueled thanks to a new wave of Australian mineral projects coming online.”

With all the progress on autonomous haulage and drilling in the Australian iron ore mining (Rio Tinto is already operating 95 autonomous trucks and 11 autonomous drills… autonomous trains are intensively tested and might be fully operational by the end of 2018…), we can hope for autonomous Lithium mining. Fingers crossed.

Headline is misleading.
Currently Australia produces most of the worlds Lithium from rock. This is because Australia is very good at developing low cost mines and has a history of spotting mining trends early and being first to market.
Lithium hydroxide is preferred over lithium carbonate because it makes better batteries. This means that brine and rock source lithium are now on a more level field cost wise because both sources require a two step chemical process to produce Lithium hydroxide.
Lithium carbonate is cheaper to produce from brine because it is a one step process but Lithium Carbonate is going out of favor as the industry demands more lithium hydroxide.
This is why there is a lot more interest in rock mineral Lithium in Australia from the big international players, Tesla included. So Australia will continue to have a major hold on Lithium supply

This articles is so full of mistakes and incorrect information, its beyond salvaging. Lithium demand projections wrong (Yes Roskill has been wrong plenty of times before especially on Lithium), terminology wrong, logic is wrong. Here is just one example…

‘While the current investment cases put spodumene hard-rock projects above Brine mining and other non-pegmatitic deposits, brine and integrated-mineral projects, in general, have a significantly longer operating lives. In turn, that makes them a more viable long-term investment.’

Most hard rocks mines have 15+ years of production and likely more with infill drilling. Assuming car battery technology will still be lithium based in 15 to 20 years is a shaky assumption.