In response to skyrocketing demand, Blue Sky Lithium is building a new state of the art lithium refinery facility and lab. This new lab focus is research and development of revolutionary lithium hydroxide extraction and refinery processes.
New Lithium Refinery Research and Development Lab
It is no surprise the electric vehicle (EV) industry is creating a “dot-com” boom around global energy transition. Additionally when you add the international push for carbon zero by 2023. Along with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. One can see the explosion of massive demand on limited supply of lithium.
Thus this skyrocketing global demand is creating a new tech ecosystem for lithium production. There is a multitude of new startups as lithium creates its own supply chain of new technologies in battery manufacturing.
Furthermore as the electric vehicle and renewable energy markets continue to grow. The need for lithium to manufacture batteries will grow with it. This growth has the potential for demand far surpass the mining industry’s production capability now and in the future.
In order to gain better understanding how this imbalance is already causing huge price increases in the market. We will look deeper at current lithium mining, and refinery techniques.
Additionally we will explain the new mining techniques that will be tested and researched in Blue Sky lIthium new refinery technology centers.
Lithium I’ll never take you for granite
Some of you maybe asking why all the supply issues from a mineral that is the 33rd most abundant element in the earths crust. Then you factor in there is gigatons of lithium trapped in the oceans. No way there can be a supply issue with lithium and production of EV batteries you say.
However the devil is in the details. The extraction and even more the refining of lithium to battery grade quality creates all these short supply issues.
Who knows more about lithium and electronic vehicles than Tesla Elon Musk. His direct quote “refining lithium is a licences to print money”.
Hard Rock Mining
Hard rock mining is a considerably more complex and energy-intensive process than conventional brine extraction. Although there are over 145 minerals that contain lithium, only five are used for commercial lithium extraction: spodumene, lepidolite, petalite, amblygonite, and eucryptite.
Of these, spodumene is the most abundant, yielding the vast majority of mineral-derived lithium. For example Australia accounts for the majority of the world’s spodumene production. However the high demand is driving new openings of smaller operations in Brazil.
Once the ore is mined, crushing and roasting are next. The process is as follows at 2012°F (1100°C), then cools to 140°F (65°C). Then milling and roasting again, this time with sulfuric acid, at 482°F (250°C). This process known as acid leaching.
During this last step, the hydrogen in the sulfuric acid is replaced with lithium ions, to produce lithium sulfate and an insoluble residue.
Next lime is added for the removal of magnesium (a constituent element in spodumene). Along with using soda ash to precipitate lithium carbonate from the final purification, filter solution. Also the lime slurry may also be used as a pH adjuster to neutralize excess acid from the acid leaching process.
Brine Mines Slow Times
The vast majority of the planets lithium is stored in seawater. Approximately 230 billion tons of lithium is floating in the planets sea waters. One of the reasons why commercial lithium brine mines (salars) is the most popular extraction method currently.
Additionally most brine mines are in the Lithium Triangle, high-up in the Andes Mountains, where the borders of Bolivia, Argentina and Chile meet.
Lithium brine recovery is a straightforward but time consuming process. For example the average processing time is 12-18 months. Thus pumping salt-rich water to the surface and into a series of evaporation ponds.
Over a period of several months, the water slowly evaporates and a variety of salts precipitate out, leaving a brine with an ever-increasing concentration of lithium.
Lithium Carbonate vs Lithium Hydroxide
The end product of both brine and mineral-based lithium extraction technology is most often lithium carbonate. In order to get lithium hydroxide the all important lithium for batteries, there is an extra step. this is the lithium refinery process.
Lithium Extraction Then Comes Lithium Refinery
Direct Lithium Extraction (DLE)
The first step of Blue Sky Lithium research for more advanced and cost efficient lithium extraction is (DLE). Direct lithium extraction is a proven technology. In a DLE operation pumping brine to a processing unit where a resin or adsorption material is used to extract only the lithium.
First our technology labs have begun researching hybrid sorbent wash to strip out the lithium chloride. Second we are testing new crystallization processing to finish with a higher grade of lithium carbonate.
For example this process usually takes 12-18 months for traditional brine lithium mine. While our lab test have reduced this total processing time to under 6 hours. The precursor product is lithium carbonate lithium chloride in the refinery process.
This new (DLES) sorbet direct injection processes produces purer concentrations of lithium chloride solutions. With these higher lithium chloride solutions we achieve higher yields of battery-grade lithium carbonate.
Lab results demonstrate:
- Over 90% lithium recovery
- Over 98% impurity removal (eg. calcium, magnesium, sodium)
- 20x-100x lithium concentration factor
Force Injection Crystallization
Our labs testing Force injection Crystallization (FICL) on lithium carbonate crystallizers to form larger and highly pure crystals. Crystallizers can require a source of heat for operation.
These larger crystals lead to high lithium hydroxide purity and yields in lab testing. Additionally cutting refinery time and costs by over 50%.
If you want more information on our new lithium technology research and design or want to contribute to carbon net zero of our planet please contact us.