I received a tip about lithium from the Salton Sea. It looks like their main focus is to extract the lithium from the hot brine used for geothermal energy without all the pond processing. They seem likely to become the leading lithium source in the US.
Lithium extraction from brines pumped to the surface for geothermal energy is being explored at Salton Sea in California by three companies. Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway owns 10 of the ll wells and is one of the developers. EnergySource and Controlled Thermal Resources are also active. CTR has a supply agreement with General Motors. In one process ceramic beads absorb the lithium and are regenerated with Hcl. Other processes are not yet revealed. The treated brine will be returned to underground brine deposits avoiding by-products and waste streams.
Koch Industries is investing in a similar brine processing operation in Arkansas, run by Standard Lithium. In Utah, Compass Minerals and US Magnesium are processing near Great Salt Lake. Global Battery Metals and Anson Resources are exploring other brines.
Albemarle mines lithium in Nevada, one of the few US producers at present. They produce 5.97% of the world’s lithium in Nevada. Schlumberger, best known for its oil well drilling and production chemicals, has a New Energy Division that is building a pilot plant for direct lithium extraction in Clayton Valley, NV.
Is all battery grade lithium made in China? That would be inefficient for the thousands of tons of lithium mined in South America or Australia and sold for battery production in the US, but may be correct at present. All of the newer plants plan to make battery grade in the US. Livent and Albemarle both have battery grade materials but its not clear where made. Albemarle’s recent contract in Chile requires that they supply local companies. They likely will convert crude lithium to battery grade materials. Tianqi Lithium plans a lithium hydroxide plant in Australia.
Livent, the former Lithium Corporation of America spinoff from FMC, has operations in Argentina. It is cited as the purest lithium play. They are focusing on lithium hydroxide, used for the most popular nickel batteries. They plan to gain market share. Ganfeng Lithium and Tianqi Lithium are the leading suppliers in China.
I read there are eleven geothermal plants in Salton Sea, 10 of them owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. EnergySource and Controlled Thermal Resources, or CTR, are also developing joint geothermal-lithium facilities at the Salton Sea, and General Motors has already committed to source lithium from CTR. CTR is building a demonstration plant due 2024.
CTR is using ion-exchange technology, which it developed in partnership with Bay Area-based Lilac Solutions, to recover lithium. Geothermal brine flows through tanks filled with ceramic beads, which absorb lithium. When the beads are saturated, the lithium is flushed out with hydrochloric acid, and lithium chloride remains. This is an intermediary product that CTR plans to refine on-site, yielding lithium carbonate or lithium hydroxide, a powder that’s ready to be processed and transformed into precursor chemicals and then manufactured into battery cells.
Standard Lithium, which specializes in lithium extraction testing, has received $100 million as an investment from Koch Industries Inc. and partnered with LANXESS Corporation to develop the first commercial lithium project in Arkansas. The lithium extraction process Standard Lithium uses is called LiSTR, which is similar to ILiAD in the benefits both have compared to previous lithium extraction methods. (Lanxess is the urethanes business spun off from Bayer.)
EnergySource uses IliAD, a lithium selective adsorbent. The ILiAD technology has the highest lithium recovery rates and drastically reduces water and chemical use, land and carbon footprint, and costs. They are building a demonstration plant they plan to have running in 2024. Commercial in 2026. They also plan to upgrade the lithium to battery grade lithium hydroxide.
Berkshire Hathaway’s BHE Renewables is also using ion-exchange technology, though the company hasn’t revealed details. The first demonstration project to recover lithium from geothermal brine, is expected to come online soon. The second demonstration project–to make battery-grade lithium carbonate, is expected in spring 2023.
Albemarle mines lithium in Nevada, one of the few US producers at present. They produce 5.97% of the world’s lithium in Nevada.
Compass Minerals is developing a “solar evaporation” brine operation in Ogden, Utah on the Great Salt Lake. Approximately 2.4 mMT LCE is available on the Great Salt Lake. They plan 30 kMT to 40 kMT lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE) for the project, with an initial phase-one capacity of approximately 10 kMT LCE by 2025. Ford has a memo of understanding to buy their battery grade product.
Utah reports that US Magnesium is supplying lithium from the Great Salt Lake. Global Battery Metals has acquired brine lands in the Bonneville Salt Flats near Wendover. Anson Resources is exploring brines in the Paradox Basin.
Motley Fool suggests Ormat Technologies ticker ORA as a designer of geothermal power plants.
Some ask about battery grade lithium. Is all processing in China or are there US producers?
Livent is one supplier. They were spun off from FMC and supply both lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide. They have operations in North Carolina as well as China and Argentina. Not clear where battery grade lithium is made. Fénix, Argentina Lithium Extraction and Manufacturing. The growing prevalence of nickel-rich batteries, which require lithium hydroxide, supports Livent’s business strategy. The company estimates nickel-rich batteries should increase their market share from about 25% today to 75% by the end of the decade.
Albemarle supplies battery grade lithium carbonate. Produced in Chengdu, China (Production of lithium carbonate and technical and battery-grade lithium hydroxide)
Schlumberger, best known for its oil well drilling and production chemicals, has a New Energy Division that is building a pilot plant for direct lithium extraction in Clayton Valley, NV. Panasonic in Sparks, NV has a collaboration agreement with New Energy to develop battery grade lithium.
- Ganfeng Lithium
On the other side of the Pacific, Ganfeng Lithium dominates as China’s largest producer of base materials for lithium battery manufacturing. Given the sheer size of China’s population (1.4 billion) and the rapid rise in EV sales, Ganfeng is well positioned as a top supplier to EV manufacturers based in China as well as to U.S. EV manufacturers such as Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA).
Tianqi Lithium (market cap $26.82 billion) is the other major Chinese company in the market, although it is only listed in China. The company has rapidly expanded by investing in lithium projects, with resources in Australia, Chile and China. This includes a 51% stake in the world’s largest lithium mine named Greenbushes in Australia, which it owns alongside Albemarle.
It is also developing the Kwinana lithium hydroxide plant in Australia that’ll be supplied by Greenbushes. It took a sizeable stake in SQM back in 2018, when it invested over $4 billion into the Chilean firm.