While lithium is set to be a major component in the transition towards sustainable energy, there are some environmental issues associated with current lithium production. Brine extraction and hard rock mining are the two main ways of procuring lithium, and both have different impacts on the environment.
Mining the metal from hard rock is pretty much what you think it would be. Digging a huge open pit hole, with lots of heavy machinery that tears up the surrounding ecosystem. Once the deposit has been identified, hard rock is a lot faster and extracts large quantities of lithium, but it is a very intensive and expensive operation similar to traditional ore mining. There is also exploration risk. Requiring geological surveys and exploration to find veins of a lithium-rich mineral called Spodumene, hard rock mining then requires traditional mining techniques and advanced processing in order to harvest lithium. Hard rock mining has been blamed for both land and river-based pollution with adverse effects on wildlife.
Brine extraction is a water-intensive process where lithium is collected through evaporation, however, it is very time-consuming and yields lower amounts of lithium depending on the concentration of the lithium in the solution. The biggest reserves in the world are found in brines, but they are spread out over large areas. To extract, salty brine at depth, within lithium-rich areas, are pumped to the surface, forming gigantic pools. From there, chemicals are added to help increase lithium yield prior to leaving the pools to evaporate. Brine extraction has been linked to the infiltration of chemicals into groundwater as well as reducing overall water availability for farmers and the general populace.
Understandably, these impacts have created a debate surrounding the future of lithium extraction and the environmental cost. Demand for lithium to use for energy storage continues to grow and solutions to reduce the environmental impact have been scarce – however, at EnergyX we believe we have the answer. Our patented LiTAS™ technology extracts lithium from brine resources using little to no water, and no chemical additives, while yielding higher amounts of lithium in a time-efficient, low-carbon manner. This drastically reduces any damage to the environment while providing a bona fide alternative to current lithium mining options.