Lithium, also known as “white gold,” is a versatile metal used in various industries, with the most significant being energy. Lithium-ion batteries power electric vehicles and store energy from wind and solar farms. In recent years, the demand for lithium has skyrocketed, as the world moves towards cleaner, renewable energy sources.
Lithium is a soft, silver-white metal that reacts explosively with water and air. Commercial lithium production involves isolating lithium from a mixture of potassium chloride and lithium chloride through electrolysis. The extracted lithium is used in various products including batteries, lubricating greases, glass and ceramics, metallurgy, nuclear fusion applications, and as a medication for bipolar disorder.
To extract lithium from brine, direct lithium extraction (DLE) has emerged as a promising technology. DLE eliminates the footprint of evaporation ponds, reduces production times, requires less freshwater, and results in higher product purity. There are five types of DLE technologies: absorbents, ion exchange, solvent extraction, membrane separation, and electrochemical separation.
According to projections, lithium demand will increase from 500,000 metric tons in 2021 to three to four million metric tons in 2030. Chile has the largest lithium reserves, with ninety-two million metric tons. Australia is the largest producer of lithium in the world. The U.S. only holds 3.6% of global lithium reserves, meaning reliance on the international mining industry is greater than ever.The global demand for lithium has spurred an increase in demand for mines specializing in graphite, cobalt, nickel, rare earth elements (REEs), manganese, copper, silicon, chromium, and zinc. With the increasing demand for electric vehicles and renewable energy sources, the need for lithium will continue to grow. The lithium economy is an essential component of the energy revolution, and it is changing the way we think about the future of energy.