Can lithium be produced with a lower environmental impact? – by Javier Lewkowicz (Dialogo Chino – September 28, 2022)

Dialogo Chino

Lithium production is facing a transformation. Mining, automotive and chemical companies around the world are in a race to improve the efficiency of production processes and reduce the environmental impact of the dominant methods of lithium extraction, in order to meet the exponential growth in demand associated with the scale-up of electric vehicles.

“Traditional brine processes have a high environmental impact, due to high levels of water evaporation,” says researcher Michelle Lee Yin of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. “There are different alternative technologies with the potential to replace and/or support the current production method, with the aim of achieving a more sustainable industry over time.”

Some of these alternative production methods are applied in a way that complements the traditional approaches, though most are still in the laboratory phase. In all cases, the scale of production required at the industrial level presents major challenges in terms of consumption, water recovery, waste generation and electricity use.

Evaporating a ‘complex soup’

In the high altitude salar, the salt flats, of Argentina and Chile, the predominant method of lithium extraction is by evaporation and the addition of lime and sodium. It consists of pumping brine from the depths of the salt flats and then concentrating it in large pools for 12 to 18 months.

For the rest of this article: