Lithium: Reducing Environmental Footprint through Direct Lithium Extraction
Lithium has become an essential mineral in the current energy revolution, powering batteries for electric vehicles and facilitating energy storage for renewable energy systems. However, traditional lithium extraction methods, such as evaporation ponds, have a significant environmental footprint. Fortunately, modern technologies such as direct lithium extraction (DLE) offer a cleaner and more efficient process for lithium production.
Direct lithium extraction involves brine flowing through a lithium-bonding material and then using absorption, ion exchange, membrane separation, or solvent extraction processes to extract lithium carbonate or lithium hydroxide. The benefits of direct lithium extraction include reducing or eliminating the footprint of evaporation ponds, decreasing production times, increasing recovery, lowering freshwater usage, and reducing the use of reagents.
Direct lithium extraction uses various technologies such as absorbents, ion exchange, solvent extraction, membrane separation, and electrochemical separation, with lithium recovery ranging from 80% to over 99%. The demand for lithium is expected to increase exponentially by 2030, with projections of three to four million metric tons from the 500,000 metric tons produced in 2021.
Currently, Chile has the largest lithium reserves, while Australia is the largest producer. However, other countries such as the US, Canada, Mexico, and the UK have recently mapped their lithium resources and reserves, signaling the potential for the expansion of the lithium economy.
In conclusion, lithium through direct lithium extraction technology is a sustainable approach to meet the growing demand for lithium in the energy economy while reducing the environmental footprint of traditional extraction methods.