Soaring demand for lithium, a metal used in inside smartphones, laptops, and the batteries that power electric vehicles, is bringing new extraction technologies to the fore.
In 2022, the price of lithium increased dramatically, driven, at least in part, by huge growth in demand for electric vehicles. Lithium is mainly sourced from hard rock mines, such as those in Australia, or underground brine reservoirs below the surface of dried lake beds. And while investment in new forms of extraction lagged historically, finance is now flowing into developing new processes for extracting lithium as demand rises.
We were briefed to assemble an expert team to look into the feasibility of mining lithium from brines processed at one of our client’s geothermal power plants. Our client, a European power generation company, owned and operated several geothermal power plants.
When assessing the feasibility of lithium extraction from geothermal brines, it’s important to determine the lithium extraction technology that’s suited to specific physical and chemical characteristics of geothermal brines available. It’s also necessary to identify the best vendors and developers that can provide these lithium extraction technologies.
Additionally, our client wanted to evaluate the potential profitability of lithium extraction operations at each of their geothermal sites, based on existing extraction technologies and likely trends in lithium prices over the next decade. Our goal was to develop a forecasting model that could predict the potential profitability of a specific lithium extraction technology for a particular brine at new geothermal sites.
To do this, we selected three experts to serve on our project team with experience spanning lithium mining, geothermal power, and rare earth metals valuation.
Our team comprised a lithium mining expert who analysed four different lithium extraction technologies: ion-exchange/adsorption, solvent extraction, membrane filtration, and electrochemical extraction. Our team then conducted an analysis to highlight the relative advantages and disadvantages of each technology. Our experts also identified vendors commercialising each of these state-of-the-art lithium extraction technologies, and benchmarked their capabilities.
The geothermal brine expert on our team compared the elemental composition and properties of each of our client’s brines against the operating parameters of the various lithium extraction technologies we had already identified. This work determined which specific brine characteristics allowed (or prevented) each lithium extraction technology to deliver its best performance.
The rare earth metals pricing specialist provided additional insights into possible price trends for lithium products over the next ten years. In all, our project team analysed four lithium extraction technologies, evaluated 15 technology vendors, considered physical and technical characteristics of geothermal brines at four of our client’s target sites, and reviewed a variety of other relevant data. Our team developed a profitability forecasting formula to predict the suitability (and potential profitability) of a specific lithium extraction technology based on characteristics of geothermal brine available at that site and on projected pricing trends for lithium products.
Kickstarting a lithium extraction pilot project
Working independently, our client would have faced challenges identifying the best commercialisation partners, evaluating the capabilities of each technology vendor, and benchmarking each solution. CamIn’s project team prepared them to identify the right geothermal sites to explore next, to select a lithium extraction technology partner, enabling them to kickstart their first lithium extraction pilot project.