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Where do we get lithium?

Posted by Integrity Global on Aug 19th 2021

Why is lithium important? Well, because it powers a great deal of the batteries for devices that run our modern world. We use lithium batteries in servers and storage devices and a wide range of personal devices like remote car locks, hearing aids, and hoverboards, to name a few. Most of us have heard of lithium batteries because of their popularity in our cell phones. However, did you ever wonder where we get lithium?

Australia is the #1 source of mineable spodumene ore, which contains lithium. In 2019 Australia mined 42,000 tons of ore. The following closest producers were Chile with 18,000 tons and then China with 7,500 tons. It's important to note that global use for 2019 was estimated at 57,700 tons, and demand is expected to double by 2024. Given lithiums importance and our growing dependence, you could be concerned about shortages. In fact, Tesla has plans to manufacture its own lithium for its car batteries. Luckily it's estimated there are about 230 billion tons of lithium in the ocean, about 4 times what's available on land.

Whether using mined ore or ocean water, it still requires additional processing to obtain usable lithium. There are three methods, but the first two listed are how most battery-grade lithium is produced :

1. Acid leaching- Mined spodumene ore is applied with an acid leaching solution, and then using an electrochemical process, battery-grade lithium is extracted.

2. Evaporation ponds- Liquid lithium carbonate is placed in large evaporation ponds and allowed to dehydrate. This method can take a long time to produce lithium and is located in areas like the high deserts of South America.

3. Saltwater extraction- Saltwater containing lithium is processed using an ion-exchange technique where the lithium attaches to a bead or other material. This bead is then washed with hydrochloric acid, which creates direct lithium chloride (DLE). The lithium made has a higher hardness, and it's possible to produce in areas not suitable for evaporation ponds.

Once the lithium is extracted, it's mixed with other components to make a slurry that forms the two main parts of a battery cell called the anode and the cathode. Lithium is highly reactive, so you should always replace Li-Ion batteries and never attempt to repair them yourself. This is also why there are restrictions on shipping them.

IGS offers a wide variety of batteries for enterprise server and storage products. If we can help you locate the correct battery for your need, please contact us.