back to article Direct lithium extraction technique for greener batteries gains traction

New techniques for producing lithium could play a vital part in making batteries for applications ranging from smartphones to electric vehicles that are more environmentally friendly than current methods of extraction. According to a Reuters report, car makers, mining companies and investors including the US Energy Department …

  1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    How green?

    So this extracts Lithium salt from water containing lithium salt with reverse osmosis - rather than evaporating it.

    Exactly like extracting salt-salt from seawater without evaporating it.

    Getting to lithium metal is still going to involve a whole lump of entropy

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: How green?

      Reverse osmosis works well for Lithium. Its a teeny weeny ion and in solution can be 'filtered' to purify it. Dehydration merely gives you something that has to be heated to purify it, and then reheated to make the cathode. Its a lot less entropy than it was.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: How green?

        >Reverse osmosis works well for Lithium.

        Ok. I thought evaporation was best case and this was like using solar panels to power a tumble dryer rather than just hanging out the washing

        Still assuming they need to do some massive electrolysis to get metalic Lithium or can you chemically convert LiCl into whatever Li-ion the battery needs ?

      2. mcswell

        Re: How green?

        What does "filtered" mean in this context? I recall from grade school science that one of the differences between a solution (which lithium in water is) and a suspension is that you can filter out the stuff in suspension, but you can't filter out something that's dissolved. So does "filter" in this case mean some kind of ionic exchange, like a water softener?

        And I'm asking you because you put scare quotes around "filtered".

        1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

          Re: How green?

          We're talking 'molecular filter' here, not your average filter paper you used in the chemistry lab, at school. As the lithium salts are small molecules, they can pass through a filter that will stop larger ones. It's a well understood process that has been producing fresh water from salt water for years.

          There will still be some other contaminants, and the salts will still be in solution, but it will be a much purer solution than the original.

          Actually, by using a second molecular filter, one of the the outputs from this process could actually be pretty pure water to be returned to the environment or directly used, as is done for seawater to produce fresh, and the other will be a concentrated solution of the lithium salts.

          1. adam 40 Silver badge

            Re: How green?

            Surely a lithium salt dissolved in water is a bunch of Li+ ions and a bunch of (say) Cl- ions.

            And also an Li+ atom/ion is much smaller than OH- or H2O or O-

            Probably that's why an osmosis filter will work then - and at lower pressure than what is used for purifying sea water?

            I'm thinking this is an ideal secondary use for offshore wind turbines, if we don't need the leccy, run the reverse osmosis, and pick up the proceeds every few months on a regular maintenance visit.

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: How green?

      as far as I am concerned the only thing that REALLY matters is a combination of safety, efficiency, and not polluting the environment with toxic chemicals.

      So if they can extract lithium at the lowest possible cost, with a high safety record and no gross pollution, I'm all for it, and if it results in lower prices on Lithium, so much the better!

      Pretty much "that" for any industry, really.

      (I thought it was pretty interesting in the article overall since I was unaware of how Lithium was being mined, or from where in the world it comes)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: How green?

        The world is changing !!! After years of working at home I'm upvoting bombastic bob all the time these days.

        1. Adrian 4 Silver badge

          Re: How green?

          He's mellowing.

          That post was hardly bombastic at all. It even had only one word capitalised, and that was appropriate.

          I think his shift key may have got worn out.

          1. Robert Grant Silver badge

            Re: How green?

            > I think his shift key may have got worn out

            Absolutely not. His keyboard is built like a brick shifthouse.

      2. JudeK (Written by Reg staff)

        Re: Re: How green?

        Bob? You OK, mate?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: How green?

      You don't get to lithium by evaporation - you get a whole lot of salt/s and a teeny bit of lithium.

      The point here is using RO to separate the small amount of lithium out directly, at low energy (because you don't have to deal with all the other salts)

  2. nijam Silver badge

    > ... reportedly uses 10 tons of water for every ton of lithium produced.

    And this is bad for the environment because the water is completely destroyed in the process?

    1. JassMan Silver badge

      And this is bad for the environment because the water is completely destroyed in the process?

      No, but it is removed from the water table which prevents farmers in the locality using it to water their crops. Every 100 tons of lithium is a million litres of water. It is unlikely to fall as rain nearby because they rely on being in a low humidty locality (often near desert) to get the evaporation to work as quick as possible. If you are a subsistence farmer this is a matter of life and death.

      1. JJ from NC

        Water is Recyclable

        And the process water cannot be returned to the water table?

        1. AVR

          Re: Water is Recyclable

          If you mean water used in reverse osmosis schemes it's pretty unusable after use being contaminated by lithium salts and possibly other industrial chemicals. You wouldn't want it in your local water table.

          1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

            Re: Water is Recyclable

            That's the bit I don't get. Current process is renewable. It uses free solar power, and the water used evaporates and rains somewhere.

            These proposals seem to add a lot of cost and complexity to an ancient salt production process that just works. Plus there's regulatory complexity as the process water would probably be considered industrial waste. Plus geothermal projects in Cornwall has it's own challenges. The Eden Project has been doing this, and caused an M4 quake a few weeks ago. That's a known risk, and it's been amusing to watch their spin team dancing around the fraccing they've been doing.

            More amusing it the radioactive waste issue. Cornish granite is fairly radioactive, so as water recirculates around the boreholes, it'll get irradiated, meaning the site needed a radioactive waste licence. Greens gloss over that problem for some reason.

            1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Re: Water is Recyclable

              Can the water actually get more radioactive than the Granite itself? People live with the slightly higher background radiation in that area all their lives for countless generations, some even living in houses made of granite.

              1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

                Re: Water is Recyclable

                Err.. Yes? I think. As I understand it, the issue is the water's recirculated so pipework and stuff in contact with irradiated water and ionizing radiation gradually gets irradiated itself. Plus concerns that transfer components like heat exchangers gradually become radioactive and contamination spreads. So seems the same risk and reasons why reactors have primary & secondary cooling loops, where one is irradiated, the other isn't.

                So because fraccing, there's an obvious risk of radioactive water contaminating the ground water. But being Cornwall, with it's granite and radon, that happens anyway. But the Greens have spent decades scaring themselves and others about radiation. So it's strange they're not campaigning to shut down the Eden Projects nuclear power plant.

                It's also why geothermal's riskier than regular fraccing because it adds the risk of quakes due to thermal shock, and water becoming more toxic as it recirculates.

            2. Chipwidget

              Re: Water is Recyclable

              The problem is it takes years of evaporation so it's a long 'pipeline' before you get some product. In the meanwhile an unseasonable rain event (ie any rain at all in that part of the world) can knock you back a year. Ask anyone from Eastern Australia about increasing rain events...

      2. ThinkingMonkey

        Ahh..that rarest of creatures: The Desert Farmer.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Well, someone has to grow and harvest the cactus to make the mezcal and tequila :-)

          1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

            Oddly enough, I've just watched Moonshiners on Discovery. One went to Mexico to see how tequila and mezcal are made. I'd assumed agave was the spikey leaves, and learned that under those is a big ball of sugary goodness that's used to make the booze.

            I also learned that agave's one of those 'miracle' plants with a lot of uses. One distillery was built from mud bricks reinforced with agave fibres, which was rather neat. Plus fibres can be turned into cloth, rope, the thorns used as needles and the food uses. Some years ago, I tried agave syrup as a substitute for maple, and it was good. Maple syrup tastes nasty to me (sorry Canada), but agave had a nice flavour.

            Downside seems to be agave grows slowly, so out competed by plants like sugar cane & beets. But for booze, the sap's pre-vintage with the plants taking 6-20+ years to mature, which presumably means more time to develop flavours.

            So quite fascinating. Rest of the show is a bit strange as it's pseudo-reality. Fun to see how booze is made, but the show fakes the illegality. The stars are presumably licensed distillers because they're not in jail.

        2. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
          Joke

          Do Dessert Farmers grow Baked Alaska?

          1. adam 40 Silver badge

            Only the ones in the Kobuk Valley National Park

      3. very angry man

        FFS

        you don't farm in the desert, cept in amuricer where water flows up hill

    2. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

      "water"

      Need some clarification: Is that drinking water or brine? Nobody is going to use what's in the Salton Sea except a salt mine.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: "water"

        Its possible clean water is used to flush the brine from below. Its also possible the electrolysis process produces cleaner water which can be reused in the geothermal process the Cornish system seemed to be looking at. The Chillean approach can use solar to dry out the salts but then it could use solar to generate the power to electolyse which could be water waste free.

        The thing is if you can re-charge a battery 1000 times or more then its a useful storage device.

        Well until the silicon batteries come along and people cant be arsed to recycle them...

    3. herman Silver badge

      Yup, mining brine is just as bad as mining oil sand. Take dirty sand, clean it, pipe the oil away and put the clean sand back down. Envirofreaks still complain about it.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        You missed the bit where pristine forest is taken off the top before you can get to the sand. Not to mention the CO2 from burning the stuff. Clean, like coal perhaps.

  3. Stork Silver badge

    Well paying employees

    I think I would like to hire some of them.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Salton Sea

    The Salton Sea is drying up. The dust around it is toxic and the water in it isn't safe for swimming, boating or fishing (I would guess no fish anyway). I was surprised to see it still a fair sized lake. Memories of previous stories made me think it was all gone already or close to it.

    https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/jul/23/salton-sea-california-lake-dust-drought-climate

    So any water you pump up or bring in is probably polluted or lost to evaporation afterwards.

    1. Version 1.0 Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Salton Sea

      I wonder if the side effects of reprocessing of lithium results in much less harmful pollution than we've been hearing about for years when lead-acid batteries are being recycled?

      "Certain lithium compounds, also known as lithium salts, are used as psychiatric medication, primarily for bipolar disorder and for major depressive disorder that does not improve following the use of antidepressants. In these disorders, it sometimes reduces the risk of suicide. Lithium is taken orally." - Wikipedia

    2. Stoneshop Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Salton Sea

      (I would guess no fish anyway)

      Pre-pickled herring.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This was announced two years ago

    …in a Tesla earnings call. Surprised the article doesn't mention it.

  6. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

    Carbon Footprint

    Caught some of the this program on the radio yesterday...

    "How green is switching to an electric car?"

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m00162yr

    About half the carbon footprint of an electric car was the battery.

    One of the contributors is Mike Berners-Lee, a professor and fellow of the Institute for Social Futures at Lancaster University. Uncle Tim is something to do with the internet.

    Depending on location, you may be able to download the mp3

  7. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    Alien

    Pollution

    It's not just the us who have to deal with the pollution of extracting Lithium...

    "Spacefaring societies tend to prioritize dilithium mines, which can generate a massive amount of pollution. But it's generally felt to be worth it; dilithium is used in starship drives, regulating the matter/antimatter reactions that provide the energy necessary to warp through space and travel faster than light."

    https://screenrant.com/star-trek-dilithium-crystals-uses-explained/

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