Story 2014-09-16 2SEQ Mining Lithium from sea water...

Mining Lithium from sea water...

in science on (#2SEQ)
story imageWith increasing industrial demand, rising prices, political and environmental concerns, there's renewed interest in extracting valuable minerals from large bodies of salt water. The most profitable of these being lithium, due to demand for advanced batteries in portable electronics and electric vehicles. This is just a variation on a theme, as lithium "mines" already use brine pools to extract the lithium. But extending the process to seas, oceans, or even the salty output of geothermal power plants, offers the promise of practically limitless supplies (estimated as 230 billion tonnes) of the valuable material.

There's some interesting explanation at if you can get past its promotional bent:
Lithium has historically been produced from two sources: brines and hard rock mining. Producing lithium from brines remains the most efficient and cost effective process. The cost-effectiveness of brine operations forced even large producers in China and Russia to develop their own brine sources or buy raw materials from brine producers.

These brines contain lithium derived mainly from the leaching of volcanic rocks and vary greatly in lithium content, largely as a result of the extent to which they have been subject to solar evaporation. They range from highly concentrated lithium deposits in the high altitude salars of Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Tibet and China where lithium concentrations can be very high; to mid-level brines like Silver Peak, Nevada and Searles Lake, California (a former location of lithium production); to lower concentration brines like the Great Salt Lake, Utah. The lower concentration brines have modest evaporation rates and dilution is constant due to a large volume of fresh water inflow and small lithium concentrations varying between 30 to 60 ppm.
Reply 7 comments

Lithium (Score: 1)

by on 2014-09-16 11:18 (#2SF0)

What do we even use lithium for? Other than horrid pscyhological meds, and batteries, anyway. As for the psych meds I understand they do almost as much harm as they do good. As for batteries, I'll be happy when we find an alternative battery technology. Lithium is better than NiCd and similar, but it sure does come with a lot of downsides, and the explosive fires are just one of them. Time for new tech?

Re: Lithium (Score: 1)

by on 2014-09-16 17:53 (#2SFM)

Barring any revolutionary advances in the field, lithium batteries are our current best energy storage technology for mobile applications (i.e. phones, laptops, electric cars) and will be our best bet for the foreseeable future. If we are ever to wain ourselves off of fossil fuels, we must implement, in large scale, renewable energy storage.

Simply put, if everyone in the U.S. decided to junk their gas guzzler and buy an electric vehicle, there simply wouldn't be enough known lithium deposits on this planet to handle the demand. In fact, according to the popular Do the Math blog, not even known lead deposits (for the older lead-acid batteries) would be enough.

Re: Lithium (Score: 1)

by on 2014-09-16 19:20 (#2SFR)

The same math shows that if the Chinese consumed at a level equivalent to the United States, the earth wouldn't produce enough food/energy/etc. to sustain it. Point being the USA consumption level is not sustainable across a larger swath of human population.

Re: Lithium (Score: 2, Insightful)

by on 2014-09-17 04:10 (#2SFX)

That kind of hypothetical is always nonsense. If the current population of the US all built log-cabins like the first settlers, there wouldn't be enough trees on the Earth...

The market takes care of such thing. You can hardly fault people for eating tasty steaks when they cost about an hour of labor... When there's 2 billion more people demanding steaks, and the price shoots up through the roof, Americans will eat far fewer of them, and maybe a lot more rice.

But in the mean-time, trying to shame Americans into changing their habits today, to match some distant future hypothetical scenario is silly and futile, and also completely unnecessary.

Re: Lithium (Score: 2, Informative)

by on 2014-09-16 18:01 (#2SFN)

What do we even use lithium for?
It also has various uses in nuclear power.

One good aspect of this technique (Score: 1)

by on 2014-09-16 17:35 (#2SFH)

One good aspect of this technique: whatever the waste byproducts of the process are, if you just throw them back in the ocean you haven't contributed any pollution to it.