A new era of lithium extraction
Published by Will Owen,
Global Mining Review,
Nestled against a building next to the Salar de Uyuni sits a white windowed shipping container emblazoned with the EnergyX logo, inside, local engineers work with members of EnergyX’s technology team to understand how to work the lithium extraction unit housed within it.
This LiTAS™ pilot plant is one of three within South America’s ‘Lithium Triangle’ and represents several years of research and development. Within three years of its creation, EnergyX has designed, built, tested, and shipped its flagship lithium extraction technology to the world’s largest lithium reserves in Bolivia.
Answering the call
As part of a 2020 tender process launched by the Bolivian government to capitalise on the rising demand for lithium, but emphasising a need for sustainability, EnergyX joined seven other companies in competing for an opportunity to aid the country’s lithium industry. This provided the company with a chance to showcase the scalable nanoparticle filter technology developed by its team of scientists and engineers. Conscious of the Bolivian government’s billion-dollar investment into renewing its own lithium brine infrastructure, EnergyX tailored its LiTAS plant to be used in conjunction with it and ensure a smooth lithium extraction operation that met the government’s standards.
Capable of recovering 90% of a salt brine’s lithium deposits in a matter of days while requiring very little freshwater, direct lithium extraction (DLE) technology, like LiTAS, is the future of mining. For comparison’s sake, current extraction methods take 18 months to retrieve 30% of a brine’s lithium while expending 18 000 gallons of water per ton. This upgrade in efficiency can ensure that there is no bottle-necking of supply chains, and allow the world to transition to a low-carbon future without a hitch. It is also the first step of EnergyX’s brine to battery vision, where the company is able to create technology at every level of the supply chain capable of delivering more efficient and sustainable results.
Brine to battery
At the Salar since January, the EnergyX containerised unit is alone, the other participating companies are still at bench-scale, and have not deployed to the field. With this plant operating within a live brine extraction environment, the team is excited to see the first sets of results – a process that could take up to six months. Although this represents a relatively long period of time, EnergyX is confident the results will be positive considering its performance and the KPIs reached in the company’s Austin-based laboratory.
While the team awaits the results of LiTAS, they are hard at work on several other projects, including EnergyX’s lithium metal battery program. As a whole, EnergyX believes in staying ahead of the curve. Throughout the entire lithium supply chain, the company has identified gaps and shortcomings that could lead to disruptions in the roll-out of renewable energy and electric vehicles. Also identified are the complementary solutions that can vastly improve how the industry and its downstream activities operate. LiTAS highlights the opportunities that new technologies can have for a sector that has not changed much in recent decades.
Within three years of operation, EnergyX has been able to disrupt a billion-dollar industry, and is capable of ushering in a new era in sustainable lithium. Of course, in order to reach these milestones, there is a need for progressive forward-thinking governments like Luis Arce’s Bolivia to provide opportunities for new technological solutions to shine. The blueprint being developed for sustainable mining in the South American nation can be replicated globally and ensure that local communities benefit the most from the extraction activities happening on their lands.
“This can be very positive. It can be a royalty model that benefits not only the regions of Potosí and Uyuni but also the rest of the country,” explains Diego Von Vacano, a professor at Texas A&M and an advisor to the Arce government in El País. “This is money that can be used for education and health. It could transform the country completely.”
The new sustainable era of lithium extraction will start in Bolivia, and EnergyX is proud to play a part in it. As global governments work together to fight the impacts of climate change and shift their economies to net-zero by 2070, they will need innovative leaders in terms of governance and technological solutions – for an example, look no further than Bolivia and EnergyX, who are disrupting the status quo and leading by example.
Read the article online at: https://www.globalminingreview.com/mining/27042022/a-new-era-of-lithium-extraction/
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