Lithium Carbonate from Geothermal Brines

According to Watercycle Technologies Ltd, a UK tech company focused on mineral extraction and water treatment systems, it has, for the first time, successfully produced lithium carbonate from naturally occurring geothermal brines in the North East of England.

“This represents a major step forward in the UK’s ambitions to produce a domestic supply of lithium to power the domestic energy transition and the UK Government’s goals of achieving net zero,” the company underlined. As reported, it applied its proprietary Direct Lithium Extraction & Crystallization process (DLEC) to successfully produced lithium carbonate crystals from brines extracted from Weardale Lithium Limited’s existing geothermal boreholes at Eastgate, in County Durham.

“The DLEC process selectively removes lithium ions from complex brines using mixed matrix hollow fiber adsorption membranes followed by concentration, polishing and crystallization stages,” Watercycle Technologies described the technique. “It is a low-impact, low-carbon and low-water usage method of extracting lithium from brines, which Weardale intends to augment using power from renewable energy sources.” Being an end-to-end solution would enable resource owners to extract the highest possible value from a resource. “By working with an end-to-end technology provider, it is not necessary to negotiate multiple contracts with several companies that only offer one part of the process. In addition, it negates the need to ship lithium concentrates for refinement elsewhere. Shipping concentrates (comprised largely of water) is expensive and increases the travel miles of the product.”

Lithium is necessary for the production of electric vehicle batteries. In order to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles and meet net-zero targets, the UK needs a secure supply of lithium “as there is currently no commercial lithium production or refining in the UK or Europe,” the firm emphasized. “Consequently, this is a significant milestone as it advances the possibility of producing domestic lithium and, in turn, advancing an integrated battery-supply chain industrial hub in the North East of England.” The success so far would enable Weardale Lithium Limited to progress its step-wise plans for scaling up trials of lithium extraction using the technique of Watercycle Technologies, supporting and enabling the investment decision for the construction and operation of a pilot demonstration plant for test-scale production of lithium. The modular pilot demonstration facility is planned to be located on the brownfield, former cement works at Eastgate. The commercial production’s aim is to extract approximately 10,000 tons of lithium carbonate annually.

(Published in GLOBAL RECYCLING Magazine 2/2023, Page 39, Photo: Watercycle Technologies)