How is lithium mined, and why its mining is criticized?

Follow us on Google News:
 How is lithium mined, and why its mining is criticized?
Image source: © Olivier26 | Megapixl.com

Summary

  • The demand for lithium has surged significantly due to the high demand for lithium-ion batteries used in portable devices and electric vehicles.
  • Lithium is primarily extracted from ore mining and salt deserts which are also known as salars.
  • The lithium extraction process involves high usage of water and has significant environmental impacts.

Source: © Malpetr | Megapixl.com

The demand for lithium has surged to record high levels in the past few years. The introduction of digital and smart technologies has almost made battery-powered gadgets a need of the hour. Lithium is used to manufacture Lithium-Ion batteries (LIBs), the powerhouse of almost all portable devices.

Also Read: Which are the hottest ASX-listed lithium stocks?

The euphoria around the green and renewable energy sources worldwide has also pushed the demand for LIBs to store energy that ultimately led to increased consumption of lithium globally. Furthermore, the world’s fascination with brand new electric vehicle (EV) models has buoyed the demand for LIBs, which are used to power EVs.

Strong support from international governments and commitments to curb carbon emission levels have fueled the demand for EVs to the next level. New age LIBs are the backbone of the electric revolution. The current advancement in battery technology has supported the automobile industry to cope with the industry's challenges like lower power, lower mileage, and higher charging time.

Why is lithium so important, and from where it is mined?

Lithium is a highly reactive element of the chemical group alkali metals. The element is highly reactive due to its electronic configuration and is not found in its pure form. Lithium contains a single electron in its outermost shell that enables it to form a chemical bond when the shell is open.

Source: Copyright © 2021 Kalkine Media

Lithium is also one of the lightest alkali metals, making it an incredible choice for battery metals and electronic gadgets. Lithium ions move from the negative to the positive electrode on discharging and vice versa. LIBs can provide three times the energy density relative to conventional rechargeable lead batteries.

Must Read: Which are the hot ASX-listed battery stocks?

As per United States Geological Survey (USGS) 2021 data, Australia was the largest lithium producer globally in 2020, while Chile held the title for the world’s largest lithium reserves, holding nearly 9.2Mt. Australia, Argentina, and China are behind Chile on the list with total reserves of 4.7Mt, 1.9Mt and 1.5Mt.

How is lithium mined?

Lithium is mainly extracted from two sources: ore mining and salt deserts. Australia is the primary source of ore-mined lithium, while lithium from Chile and Argentina comes from salt deserts, also known as salars.

Source: © Lecocqsebastien | Megapixl.com

However, most of the lithium is extracted from mineral-rich brines, which are found beneath the briny lakes of high-altitude flats. The extraction process involves drilling down through the crust and then pumping the brine up to the surface into evaporation pools. The mixture is then left for several months for evaporation. The process creates a salty mud that contains a mixture of potassium, borax, manganese, and lithium salts, which are then further moved to another open-air evaporation pool.

Good Read: Hot EV Stocks: How have they fared in the past year?

After 12 to 18 months, the mixture is distilled to extract lithium carbonate, the main ingredient used in the manufacturing of LIBs. This extraction method is common in the Lithium Triangle area, a region in the Andes rich in lithium reserves present around the borders of Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina.

The method is highly favourable due to its cost-effectiveness in extracting lithium carbonates. However, the process is being criticized often for using too much water.

Why is lithium mining criticized?

The production of one tonne of lithium utilizes nearly 500,000 gallons of water. Mining activities in Salar de Atacama, Chile, have already consumed around 65% of the area's water. The mining activities have further depleted the already-scarce water resources in the region.

Good Read: How 3 ASX-Listed Penny Stocks in Lithium Space Are Performing

Additionally, the toxic chemicals used in the separation process, including hydrochloric acid, can move evaporation pools to the local water table and affect the area's air quality. Increasing drought conditions have also threatened livestock farming, leading to dry-out of vegetation. In various cases, indigenous communities have taken legal actions against lithium projects.

Disclaimer

The content, including but not limited to any articles, news, quotes, information, data, text, reports, ratings, opinions, images, photos, graphics, graphs, charts, animations and video (Content) is a service of Kalkine Media Pty Ltd (Kalkine Media, we or us), ACN 629 651 672 and is available for personal and non-commercial use only. The principal purpose of the Content is to educate and inform. The Content does not contain or imply any recommendation or opinion intended to influence your financial decisions and must not be relied upon by you as such. Some of the Content on this website may be sponsored/non-sponsored, as applicable, but is NOT a solicitation or recommendation to buy, sell or hold the stocks of the company(s) or engage in any investment activity under discussion. Kalkine Media is neither licensed nor qualified to provide investment advice through this platform. Users should make their own enquiries about any investments and Kalkine Media strongly suggests the users to seek advice from a financial adviser, stockbroker or other professional (including taxation and legal advice), as necessary. Kalkine Media hereby disclaims any and all the liabilities to any user for any direct, indirect, implied, punitive, special, incidental or other consequential damages arising from any use of the Content on this website, which is provided without warranties. The views expressed in the Content by the guests, if any, are their own and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of Kalkine Media. Some of the images/music that may be used on this website are copyright to their respective owner(s). Kalkine Media does not claim ownership of any of the pictures displayed/music used on this website unless stated otherwise. The images/music that may be used on this website are taken from various sources on the internet, including paid subscriptions or are believed to be in public domain. We have used reasonable efforts to accredit the source wherever it was indicated as or found to be necessary.

Featured Articles

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you continue to use this site we will assume that you are happy with it. OK