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Lithium Energy produces battery grade lithium from brines

Updated: Apr 30


Brines from Lithium Energy’s Solaroz lithium project produced ‘battery grade’ lithium carbonate in testing. Credit: File.

Lithium Energy has achieved a significant project milestone at its Solaroz lithium brine project in Argentina with 99.5 per cent pure ‘battery grade’ lithium carbonate produced in testing.


The company says the achievement is a key piece of data that will drive the design criteria as the project advances towards lithium production from its massive 3.26 million tonne lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE) resource.


Lithium brine accumulations are essentially groundwater that has become enriched with lithium through natural processes. Companies drill into the rock hosting the brines and deliver it to surface where the sun’s rays evaporate the water from the salty solution in shallow ponds, leaving a concentrate rich in lithium which is then further processed and sold as lithium carbonate or hydroxide. A number of companies in the market are also developing “direct lithium extraction” technology that will do away with the ponds.


Lithium Energy’s latest test result comes from a 300-litre sample of Solaroz brine grading 397mg/l lithium which the company says is representative of brines across the vast Solaroz project. The sample underwent lab testing by Norlab SLR, an experienced Argentinian geochemical company which processed the sample using a scaled version of the solar evaporation method.


Stage one of the testing saw the brine sample undergo primary evaporation, in which the water is removed from the mixture using heat energy, followed by salt precipitation in which the lithium brine is separated from salts. The final stage results in the production of the battery-grade lithium carbonate product which is a white powder purchased by battery manufacturers.


Lithium Energy has also been conducting other tests on the brine at a larger scale using the natural conditions at the Solaroz site itself.


The company says the site-based tests have leveraged the arid conditions at Solaroz to provide evaporation rates and brine chemistry data. To assess the impact of seasonal weather changes on brine evaporation, the company will continue its on-site test work during the coming months.


The Solaroz project covers an area of about 12,000 hectares in South America’s world-renowned Lithium Triangle – an area between Argentina, Bolivia and Chile which has a lot of lithium brine accumulations – in fact about a third of the world’s brine resources.


In October last year Lithium Energy upgraded its mineral resource estimate for Solaroz to 3.26 million tonnes of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE) grading 305 mg/l lithium within the indicated and inferred classifications. Of that, 2.36 million tonnes of LCE grading 312 mg/l lithium sits within the higher confidence indicated category. The company also says Solaroz also has a high-grade core with an indicated and inferred resource of 1.26 million tonnes LCE at an average concentration of 400 mg/l lithium.


Management says further expansion of the Solaroz resource is possible and will be tested by further exploration drilling.


October last year also saw the company announce the results of a head turning scoping study at Solaroz stating the project could create either 20,000 tonnes of LCE for 36 years or 40,000 tonnes per year for 19 years ‑ the 19-year option equating to an eye watering earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) of $1.1 billion per year.


While solar evaporation provided the base case for the scoping study, Lithium Energy is also progressing its own studies into direct lithium extraction (DLE) for Solaroz, potentially giving the company an alternate production pathway for the brines that does not involve building the ponds.


In December last year, the company sent a massive 10,000 litre brine sample to Xi’an Lanshen New Material Technology’s laboratory in Chile for testing after Lanshen committed to building and funding a demonstration plant at Solaroz capable of pumping out 30,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate per year.


For China-based Lanshen, the demonstration plant is an opportunity to test its direct lithium extraction flowsheet and its proprietary sorbent-based technology ahead of what may be a game-changing production partnership for Argentinian lithium brine plays.


The Solaroz project is located about 10km north of Arcadium’s Olaroz lithium brine bore field which feeds a production facility that pumped out 13,000 tonnes of LCE in 2022 and has a targeted ramp-up rate of a whopping 42,500 tonnes of LCE per year.


The Lithium Energy story could be worth watching this year, with a massive resource at Solaroz now proven to be capable of producing battery grade saleable product and dual stream processing options. With more testing and drilling on the horizon, South America’s Lithium Triangle could add another jewel to its crown – and soon.


Is your ASX-listed company doing something interesting? Contact: office@bullsnbears.com.au

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