Lithium: Minmetals Salt Lake announces direct lithium extraction breakthrough

Minmetals Salt Lake, subsidiary of China Minmetals Corporation, Beijing, announced a technological breakthrough in direct lithium extraction on Tuesday, 1 June, reports.

The direct lithium extraction process, developed by Xi’an Lanshen New Material Technology, uses aluminium hydroxide as an adsorbent to separate lithium from other impurities. R&D investment totalled RMB44.8M (US$7.0M) and a 1kt scale pilot line started operation in April. After running consecutively for two months, the test result proved to be a success with improvements in lithium recovery rate and processing cost compared to historical processing methods.

Minmetals Salt Lake is operating the Yiliping brine project in Qinghai province, Chian, which was commissioned in 2018 with a 10ktpy capacity of lithium carbonate. Minmetals first adopted membrane technology provided by Jiuwu Hi-Tech, though a solar evaporation stage was still essential. The traditional solar evaporation stage normally takes 18-24 months to produce concentrated brine from which lithium may be extracted, while the direct lithium extraction technology developed shortens the extraction process to 20 days. This technology can be applied in the initial concentration stage of processing, with membrane separation later used to extract lithium from solution, increasing current capacity without significant investment.

More recently, an ‘Action Plan for Building a World-Class Salt Lake Industrial Base’ was released, which shows the determination of the Chinese government to support the development of brine assets in China. Given that China relies heavily on imported raw materials to produce lithium products, crucial in Li-ion batteries, the development of domestic lithium resources is seen as the key to establish supply security and help Chinese companies remain competitive. China has abundant brine resources located in Qinghai province, but the quality of resources with low lithium content, though high Li:Mg ratio, has impeded production. If direct lithium extraction technology can be successfully applied to Minmetals existing operation and other Salt Lake assets in China, lithium extracted from brine would be expected to contribute a greater portion of global supply.

Roskill’s new Lithium-ion Batteries: Outlook to 2030, 5th Edition report will be available soon, and draws upon Roskill’s more than 50 years’ of experience in analysing metal and mineral markets, including major battery raw material markets, along with our in-house automotive and lithium-ion battery models.

Roskill’s new Lithium: Outlook to 2031, 18th Edition report will be available soon, and will address key questions facing the industry. The report includes full analysis of the impact of COVID-19 on supply, demand and prices, as well as profiles of the main producers. 

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