Lithium Economics

Technology the key to newcomers in lithium?

May 25, 2016

A recent report on new lithium extraction technologies by Myles McCormick, published by Industrial Minerals (IM), including comments by Chris Berry, founder of House Mountain Partners and Juan Carlos Zuleta, lithium economics analyst.

Industrial Minerals, UK

Printed Edition, June, 2016

Published online 21 May 2016

By Myles McCormick

- Solvent-based extraction a potential game-changer

- Korea’s POSCO fronting new direct extraction technology

- Details remain vague as companies tight-lipped about plans

Novel technology may be a key differentiating factor between junior lithium projects, according to industry experts. As the elevated price of lithium draws ever more would-be producers to the market, commentators have suggested the use of novel solvent-based direct extraction technology may prove to be an important element in determining which projects come to fruition and which do not.

“Leveraging technology is the new way forward,” Chris Berry, founder of House Mountain Partners told IM. Direct extraction technology can reduce the time taken to produce lithium from brines from months to mere hours, by skipping the solar evaporation process traditionally associated with brines, according to proponents.

Its adoption has been fronted by Korean battery maker POSCO, which is due to bring a 2,500 tpa lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE) operation online in Argentina from September this year, which it intends to ramp up to 40,000 from 2017, according to local news sources.

Such an enormous ramp up seems unlikely unless the company does have a revolutionary new way of processing brines. “If POSCO succeed, it will be a game-changer,” Juan Carlos Zuleta, a Bolivia-based lithium economic analyst, told IM.

Other companies are also experimenting with versions of direct extraction (See information below), but information on the specifics remains scarce, making it difficult to assess the viability of their processes.

As the race to reach production heats up, as juniors seek to capture the exponential growth in lithium demand – with estimates suggesting a CAGR anywhere between 8% and 12% - it will soon become clear which processes are viable and which are not.

Companies planning to use direct extraction technology

Company Salar Location

Enirgi Corp. Rincón Salta, Argentina

Eramet S.A. Centenario-Ratones Salta, Argentina

POSCO Pozuelos Salta, Argentina

Pure Energy Minerals Ltd. Clayton Valley Nevada, US

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