Where did that lithium come from?

We are witnessing a revolutionary change in the way we use and store energy. The rechargeable revolution is well underway, and leading the charge is lithium.
Given that the most sophisticated and reliable battery technologies rely on lithium, it’s important to ask where the lithium comes from.

Conventional Lithium Extraction

The conventional extraction of lithium, through the evaporation of brines, can have significant impacts on water resources and ecology. The conventional process evaporates water from brines in large ponds (thousands of acres), which are expensive to build and maintain. This one-way movement of water from the ground to the atmosphere can result in significant impacts on groundwater as well as land subsidence. Further, residual salt waste is collected and stored in massive salt piles that scar the landscape and present a risk to the environment.

Evaporation based lithium processing suffers from poor recovery, typically less than 50%, and is affected by precipitation and other aspects of the weather. The vagaries of weather and climate can therefore impact project economics and time to market.

In addition, the high salt environment in and around the evaporation ponds can be toxic to flora and fauna; related leaching, spills, or air emissions can harm communities, ecosystems and food production. In short, the old evaporation technology is expensive, potentially harmful, and does not optimize the resource.

The European Commission on Science for Environmental Policy states that lithium’s “continued use needs to be monitored, especially as lithium mining’s toxicity and location in places of natural beauty can cause significant environmental, health, and social impacts.”

Innovative Lithium Extraction Technology

All lithium brine mines built since Silver Peak in 1966 make use of some form of evaporation based processing. Consider the changes in battery technology during that same period of time. Are there opportunities for that sort of innovation in lithium production as well? Can we find better and more sustainable ways to extract and process the raw materials needed for this clean energy revolution? We believe the answer to both questions is a resounding YES.

Pure Energy’s objective is to develop and demonstrate an innovative, sustainable and enhanced lithium extraction process as an alternative to the conventional evaporation based technology. There are several candidates for such a breakthrough, most of which are based on some form of selection extraction of lithium from the brine. After researching and evaluating several approaches to the challenge, Pure Energy has advanced through laboratory trials and into a mini-pilot plant evaluation of some exciting new technology.

The company is working with global technology and mining services provider Tenova Bateman Technologies (TBT) at the process testing, engineering, and design stage on the Clayton Valley South Project. Early indications at the lab scale and beyond are that the TBT process may outperform conventional and other alternative technologies for lithium recovery from certain brines. Preliminary results reported by Pure Energy in 2015 and 2016 suggest that the TBT technology has the potential for significant advantages over conventional technology*:

*Comparative advantages based on Tenova Bateman marketing literature and preliminary bench-scale testing of the Pure Energy brine through Tenova Bateman’s LiPTM and LiSXTM technologies (See Company news release dated March 4, 2015).
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    hours vs. months

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    High Purity

    isolation from impurities vs. lingering impurities in ponds

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    small footprint vs. 4,000+ acre ponds

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    Recycle Friendly

    ability to treat used lithium feedstock vs. brine only

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    90% Li Recovery vs. 40-50% Li Recovery

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    reinjected brines and minimal solid waste vs. water losses and large waste piles

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    non-issue vs. dependent variable

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    lower cutoff grade vs. higher grade required

Key Developments

The Company has retained an owner’s team rich in process engineering expertise. The team is focused on optimizing the TBT technology and augmenting it where necessary to suit the Clayton Valley brines. During the latter half of 2016, Pure Energy has been progressing its engineering work to support a Preliminary Economic Assessment expected before year end.

Pure Energy completed preliminary bench-scale testing of the Tenova Bateman LiSXTM technology in Feb 2015. Results exceeded expectations with virtually 100% Li recovery and crystallization of a very high purity intermediate LiCl product (>99.9%).

As shown in the video link below, the LiSXTM process is compact and simple, using hardware common to typical solvent extraction facilities. In fact, Tenova Bateman’s solvent extraction technology is on display in many other types of mineral processing, including uranium, nickel, and copper.

Tenova Bateman LiSX lithium extraction typical plant footprint (schematic):

Tenova Bateman LiSX lithium extraction typical plant footprint (schematic):

LiSXTM Advantages