A New Way to Produce Lithium from Clay DepositsBy Karin Dilge | Thu, 07/07/2022 - 17:13
Demand for lithium is increasing worldwide, but producing it is proving to be tricky. Allan Barry, CEO, Advance Lithium explains the different ways to extract the mineral and the agreement with the government his company pursues as it strives to keep its salt lake resources to produce potassium and lithium under its possession.
The global lithium boom is marked by a market environment in which demand is strong, but supply is lacking. Electric vehicle (EV) manufacturers are increasing their production but encounter problems because they struggle to find the raw materials for the batteries they produce, lithium being one of the most important resources in this environment.
“Lithium is often produced from brine deposits in South America, via a process that requires salt evaporation ponds to remove water, leaving only the lithium. This procedure takes approximately two years,” said Barry, adding that it unlikely that new production is going to come from those deposits soon to solve the supply issue.
The silvery-white metal can also be found in hard rock deposits, which tend to be high-grade but do not produce as much lithium as brine deposits. A major hard rock deposit holder would be Australia. Nonetheless, all the country’s production goes to China, which does not really support North American EV manufacturers, explained Barry.
Another emerging source of lithium is clay deposits, which are found around salt lakes. Nevertheless, the known and conventional method to extract the white gold from these deposits requires a lot of water and chemicals. Barry presents an advantage Advance Lithium has in that regard, based on the work the company has developed with a mineralogist working at a major Saltillo-based university, who invented an environmentally-friendly and more effective method.
“What is really quite impressive about the method is that it is somewhat similar to the electrowinning of copper. When that came along, it revolutionized the production of copper,” said Barry.
The method Advance Lithium proposes aims to use electrical separation and water recycling. Barry explains that the company put the clay material and water into an electrical devise which separates the lithium and potassium from the water. Following that, the company is left with a concentrate, to which organic compounds are applied to complete the separation of the water from the minerals. This water can be recycled numerous times for the same process. In addition, the electrical process does not need a lot of power, so solar energy can generate the required electricity.
The company has done much sampling and drilling and determined that the deposits have minerals at the surface and continue to depth, at times finding higher grades of lithium and potassium. Advance Lithium began its projects in early 2021, but the government has since nationalized all new lithium production by changing the Mining Law. Although this has been challenging, the company works to reach an agreement with the government and discuss a joint venture.
Advance Lithium could also produce significant amounts of potassium, an increasingly expensive resource essential for Mexican farmers. Moreover, the company would commit to keep the lithium in Mexico, so that the country would reap the economic benefits.