Lithium Mining and the Benefits of LIBS Technology
Lithium, a key element for the future of sustainable energy, has been the focus of intense demand due to the rapid growth of the electric-vehicle (EV) market. Predictions suggest that the global demand for lithium will keep growing at an astonishing rate of 33.3% annually, which calls for a corresponding increase in mining activity.
Lithium mining procedures may vary according to geological, financial, or ecological factors. Today, this metal is primarily mined from brine (60-70% of worldwide production) and hard rock deposits (20-30% of worldwide production).
Current extraction method
The extraction from underground brine deposits is the cheapest but most time-consuming mining technique. It involves pumping brine reservoirs to the surface, letting the water evaporate, and collecting concentrated salts, including lithium. Lithium is then purified in a processing facility via methods like precipitation, chemical treatment, and filtration. Subsequently, it is converted into lithium compounds, typically lithium carbonate or lithium hydroxide according to its intended application.
While brine extraction may have a lower carbon footprint compared to other mining methods, it still impacts the environment. The production of one ton of lithium requires over 500,000 gallons of water. This type of extraction may also lead to chemical contamination. Additionally, the entire extraction process takes months, even years.
Mining from hard rock sources, such as spodumene and petalite, offers a faster extraction and a higher lithium concentration. The explosives blast the boreholes in the rock, and the rock is then crushed into a fine powder. The lithium-bearing material of the rock is roasted and then subjected to sulfuric acid or another suitable acid to extract lithium ions. Ultimately, the lithium sulfate solution is purified and converted into lithium carbonate or lithium hydroxide.
This method, too, faces criticism. Heavy machinery requires lots of energy, leading to increased expenses. This procedure also risks water and air pollution.
New extraction methods
For years, lithium mining has relied on these conventional methods. However, with the surging demand for lithium, especially in electronic devices and the EV industry, and a growing commitment to eco-friendly processes, there’s a pressing need for the development of new extraction methods.
A promising advancement in lithium mining involves clay deposits. The extraction usually occurs via acid leaching. It mixes lithium-bearing clay with a mineral acid solution and then heats it to extract lithium and remove impurities. Since this method requires substantial acid consumption and complex purification procedures, more cost-effective and sustainable ways to mine lithium from clay are underway.
Another emerging method is direct lithium extraction (DLE). In this method, brine is directly drawn into a processing unit, where lithium is separated and the brine is reinjected underground. Unlike the traditional use of evaporation ponds, DLE technologies have the potential to recover the majority of lithium swiftly. Moreover, unlike the months-long process of traditional brine extraction, DLE achieves results within days, eliminating the need to transport brine to a separate processing facility and reducing production costs significantly.
Emerging methods like DLE aim to improve efficiency, reduce environmental impact, and enhance the overall sustainability of lithium mining operations. While some of these methods are still in the research and development phase, they hold promising potential for the future of lithium extraction.
Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy is a technology that can play a transformative role in lithium mining. How can LIBS be useful throughout the whole mining process?
Rapid Elemental Analysis: LIBS analysers can quickly and accurately identify the elemental composition of geological samples, providing critical data for mineral exploration and mining operations. Compared to many competitive technologies, LIBS can also efficiently analyze light weight elements (H-Mg), which is crucial for Li mining.
Cost-Efficiency: By providing instant results, LIBS analysers can help miners make informed decisions quickly (real-time monitoring), on-site, potentially reducing operational costs and increasing efficiency.
Quality Control: LIBS can be used for quality control of ore samples, helping miners to sort and classify materials more effectively. Miners can use LIBS for real-time monitoring of ore grades and compositions during the mining process, optimizing resource extraction.
Safety: LIBS doesn’t require the use of hazardous chemicals or radioactive sources, making it a safer analytical method for miners and the environment
Overall, LIBS analysers offer a valuable tool for miners to improve exploration, mining efficiency, and environmental responsibility.
With the growing global demand for lithium, there’s an urgent call for innovative, efficient, and eco-conscious extraction techniques. LIBS stands out as a revolutionary technology in this context. By integrating LIBS into the lithium mining process, we can ensure not only quicker and more efficient extraction but also optimal utilization of the mined resource, leading to significant operational cost savings. Stay a leap ahead with LIBS – the solution for efficient and innovative extraction!
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