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Lithium 2019

By Charles Kubach, Mine-Engineer.Com
January 3, 2019

For the past several years, the mining community has been rushing to find lithium deposits to furnish the Lithiun Carbonate for manufacture of Lithium Ion rechargeable batteries to power automobiles, back up renewable energy plants, power cellular telephones and a host of other devices. The primary advantage of lithium batteries is they operate at full power, until discharged. No power reduction curve as the battery become depleted of its electrons, like other conventional batteries.

Above is a chart of lithium production between 2008 and 2016. The steep upward trend belies all the attention and money that has flowed into finding and developing lithium deposits around the world. Currently, two countries account for the majority of lithium production, Chile and Argentina, with Australia recently producing significant quantities of lithium. China and Bolivia have large deposits of lithium, but it is so far, not developed. Of the two, Bolivia has the larger deposits, and one would think it would be crawling with exploration teams and junior companies to define and develop mining and processing schemes to bring it to market. The United States has a major lithium deposit in Nevada, and one small producing mine, the Silver Peak Mine. A company called Nevada Lithium is trying to develop the Thacker Valley lithium deposit and it is still in the exploration phase, identifying the deposits and grades, as well as a economical method of refining the ore to produce the salable lithium carbonate desired by battery manufacturers.

Reserves in the USA are estimated to be 10 million metric tons of lithium, and about 10 million metric tons in other countries around the world. The reserves are almost certain to increase, as more lithium deposits are identified, explored and the deposit is quantified by drilling and testing. In 2016, the total worldwide consumption of lithium was 213,000 metric tons, and is expected to increase dramatically as more is made available.

Some of the most important lithium minerals are spodumene, lepidolite, petalite, amblygonite, and eucryptite, although hundreds of minerals have lithium content.

Some major deposits in Chile and Nevada are brine deposits, where over millions of years, dilute lithium solutions have had the water evaporated by the desert sun, and left lithium in a concentrated form. These brine concentrations can vary from 70 PPM to over 1,000 PPM (Parts Per Million).

Once the ore is mined, it must be concentrated into a salable form. This involves many processes, such as Spodumene, where calcination and reaction with Sulfuric acid produce lithium sulfate, then it is reacted with soda ash to produce lithium carbonate. Froth flotation has also been used to produce lithium concentrates. Some brines solutions have been pumped to surface evaporating ponds, using hot water injected onto the ore body, and the sun evaporates the water giving a concentrated lithium, which is then reacted and turned into a lithium carbonate. Occasionally, other minerals are recovered for sale, such as potash, from the lithium brines.

There is much research and development of process to process lithium ores, and there is no doubt some of these bright engineers, metallurgists and chemists will develop many other efficient methods to concentrate and refine the lithium ores to produce lithium carbonate. The lithium mining industry is currently in it's infancy, and will be much larger in future years, as demand grows exponentially, and capital is invested in finding, developing, producing and processing lithium ores.

A link to spoduemne photos, mineral information, MinDat.Org

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