Greenhouse gases caused by burning fossil fuels are now recognised as major contributors to global warming. Meeting the Paris Agreement target of limiting warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels will require a shift to renewable energy, especially electricity generated through solar, wind and other clean sources.
Traditional vehicles powered by internal combustion engines are expected to be phased out, replaced by Electric Vehicles powered by batteries, and recharged from clean power sources.
Lithium is a critical component of almost all modern batteries and reduces battery weight and extends vehicle range.
Most lithium production is from hard rock mining of pegmatite ores or through evaporation of continental brines. Within the hard rock category, spodumene is by far the most common and economically viable mineral to process. The spodumene is concentrated on the mine site, then further processed to produce lithium hydroxide monohydrate (LHM). LHM then requires further refining for use in battery manufacturing.
Lithium is currently produced from two main deposit types: hard rock and continental brines. The brines are concentrated in the lithium triangle of South America: Chile, Argentina and Bolivia. At brine operations, saline brines with high lithium concentrations are pumped to the surface and concentrated by evaporation. This material is then sent for further processing to produce lithium carbonate or lithium chloride.
Lithium production from clays and hydrothermal brine is currently under investigation but commercial production is yet to be achieved.