Controlled Thermal Resources and NeoLith Energy, which is a lithium extraction pilot by Schlumberger New Energy, are employing a new approach called direct extraction. It produces battery-grade lithium in much less time than current methods, redirects the remaining brine back into the ground and is designed to help battery makers assemble cells faster.
Automakers, such as General Motors, and battery makers, such as Panasonic Energy of North Ameri ca, are collaborating and investing in companies that plan to test direct extraction methods. Such methods are designed to reduce the environmental and economic impact of lithium sourcing, said Manish Chawla, industrial sector general manager at IBM Global Industries.
“Companies are spending the time to design their supply chain, secure their sources” with the environment in mind, Chawla said.
If the sourcing and recyclability of battery materials is considered today, “before it hits that scale of oil and gas … my optimistic hope is that the issues are addressed early in the cycle,” he said.
The evaporation process used in traditional lithium mining can take 18 to 24 months, said Richard Morrison, operations manager for NeoLith Energy.