Research places cost into drive for sustainable lithium manufacturing

Evaporation ponds at SQM’s lithium mining website within the Salar de Atacama, in Chile. (Picture by SQM.)

An necessary new research by researchers on the U.S. Division of Vitality’s (DOE) Argonne Nationwide Laboratory has yielded important recent insights into the lithium manufacturing course of and the way it pertains to long-term environmental sustainability, significantly within the space of transportation with batteries and electrical automobiles.

The paper, “Vitality, Greenhouse Gasoline, and Water Life Cycle Evaluation of Lithium Carbonate and Lithium Hydroxide Monohydrate from Brine and Ore Assets and Their Use in Lithium Ion Battery Cathodes and Lithium Ion Batteries,” within the journal Assets, Conservation & Recycling, was the results of a singular collaboration with SQM, a Chilean firm that is without doubt one of the world’s greatest producers of lithium.

Based on Argonne lifecycle analyst and lead creator Jarod Kelly, the researchers—utilizing operational knowledge equipped by SQM—discovered that the sourcing of lithium, from each a course of and placement perspective, can strongly have an effect on its related environmental impacts.

“The outcomes present that concentrated lithium brine and its associated finish merchandise can range considerably in power consumption, greenhouse fuel emissions, sulfur dioxide emissions and water consumption relying upon the useful resource allocation methodology used,” Kelly defined.

The researchers modeled brine-based lithium extracted from the Salar de Atacama, a big salt flat in northern Chile close to the Andes Mountains. The lithium is of course dried in massive ponds to evaporate the water, focus the lithium, and take away impurities. Supplies and power are later added to supply lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide. These two finish merchandise are shipped worldwide to battery cathode producers that course of them into a wide range of battery supplies.

The research findings may have main implications for the best way to optimize lithium manufacturing at every stage of the method, which might lead to extra environmentally-friendly merchandise, significantly battery electrical automobiles. The Worldwide Vitality Company predicts that demand for lithium might develop by as a lot as 40 occasions between 2020 and 2040, primarily on account of international deployment of electrical automobiles.

“Examination of present lithium manufacturing and the pursuit of future manufacturing, together with from throughout the U.S., are important to sustaining electrical car deployment,” stated Michael Wang, director of the Methods Evaluation Middle at Argonne and a research co-author.

“This research establishes a baseline for present practices and reveals us potential areas for enchancment,” added Kelly. “With additional analysis, it will likely be potential to make use of this info to assist develop finest practices for producing lithium in essentially the most sustainable manner.”

SQM initially approached Argonne final 12 months a couple of collaboration in assist of formidable sustainability targets the corporate just lately unveiled.

“Based on our sustainability plan, we wish to look extra intently at carbon emissions, water consumption and power consumption in our lithium merchandise, and see the way it impacts the remainder of the worth chain,” stated Veronica Gautier, SQM’s head of innovation. “This info will assist us obtain our purpose of being carbon impartial by 2030.”

The evaluation may also assist deal with an overarching query within the international pattern towards the electrification of transportation with battery electrical automobiles, Wang stated.

“Typically electrification is for the aim of pursuing environmental sustainability. However we have to know extra about lithium battery manufacturing earlier than we will say we’re actually on a sustainable path,” he stated. “This research supplies essential insights into the electrical mobility worth chain.”

The formal evaluation used Argonne’s open-source modeling device, GREET (Greenhouse gases Regulated Emissions and Vitality in Applied sciences), with detailed knowledge and technical perception coming from SQM. Along with the brine-based lithium extracted in Chile, the researchers augmented their knowledge by modeling ore-based lithium extracted from spodumene ore in Western Australia.

Kelly stated it was the primary evaluation of its variety to be primarily based on such complete knowledge from an industrial accomplice. Gautier added that SQM was happy that the research outcomes have been now publicly accessible and would assist additional international efforts towards making certain accountable and sustainable lithium manufacturing.

“It is necessary for us to have full and full transparency about how our course of works, and we’re excited to leverage Argonne’s expertise and experience,” she stated. “Sharing this info could have nice instructional worth.”


Battery components could be recycled with out crushing or melting


Extra info:
Jarod C. Kelly et al, Vitality, greenhouse fuel, and water life cycle evaluation of lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide monohydrate from brine and ore sources and their use in lithium ion battery cathodes and lithium ion batteries, Assets, Conservation and Recycling (2021). DOI: 10.1016/j.resconrec.2021.105762

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Argonne Nationwide Laboratory


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