Standard Lithium Scores Points With Proof-of-Concept Lithium Extraction & Crystallization Tech

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Standard Lithium is a lithium extraction startup pursuing an unconventional method of getting lithium for EV batteries. Tesla CEO Elon Musk commented in response to a CleanTechnica article last year that the approach seemed to have some promise.

Standard Lithium has recently celebrated a proof-of-concept project using its innovative lithium processing technology.

The company says that it has produced >99.9% purity lithium carbonate (aka “3 nines”) at the project. The process as summarized by the company is as follows: “Start-to-finish direct extraction of lithium from brine in Arkansas; production of purified, concentrated intermediate; final conversion to high-purity battery quality lithium carbonate end-product.”

Naturally, this is at a concept scale, not yet a commercial scale, but the successful Arkansas pilot project for extracting lithium from brine in Arkansas is a big step toward commercialization. Then, as the second part and third part of that pilot project, Standard Lithium has created a concentrated intermediate product (LiCl solution), and converted that into “better than battery quality lithium carbonate final product.”

The first part of the process Standard Lithium is using is called Direct Lithium Extraction (DLE), and this is a “first-of-its-kind” DLE demo project was completed in September. The recent news is that the company has gone through the resulting phases.

“We’ve managed to demonstrate the first of its kind continuous extraction of lithium from Smackover brine and we’ve converted it into better than battery quality material,” Dr. Andy Robinson, President and COO of Standard Lithium, commented. “Not only that, but we’ve done it at a large scale, which now allows us to keep on working towards commercialization. This proof of concept validates our approach over the past four years, and is testament to the hard work and ingenuity of our deep and diverse technical team.”

But can this really be commercialized and be cost-competitive as well as profitable? That’s what we have to find out, but the lithium experts at RK Equity, like Elon Musk, have some faith in the idea. “In general, we think that DLE technologies — this is a direct lithium extraction technology that’s being applied to a bromine, but they also apply to oil fields and geothermal — we believe that some of them will work, and they will likely contribute to supply post-2025 in some reasonable volumes.” So, even with this demo project and some faith in the technology, it seems we’re still some distance from seeing this reach a large production volume.

Standard Lithium: “Better Than Battery Quality”

Standard Lithium provides some further summary and details of what it has done: “The LiCl solution shipped from Arkansas was concentrated further using industry-standard reverse osmosis technology, and then converted at the Company’s SiFT Pilot Plant located in British Columbia, Canada. The lithium carbonate recrystallized as per the SiFT technology and the resulting high-purity lithium carbonate was sent for third party chemical analysis. Photos of the lithium carbonate being dried are provided as Figure 1 below; real-time images of the lithium carbonate as it formed in the hot reactor are shown as Figure 2, and the third party analysis of the final product is provided as Table 1 below.”

Figure 1: Trays of high purity lithium carbonate produced at the SiFT Pilot Plant in Richmond, BC, Canada, being dried in a controlled temperature oven prior to analysis.
Figure 2: Examples of high purity lithium carbonate crystals (shown with red and green scale bars) being formed in real-time inside the SiFT Pilot Plant hot reactor. The blurry objects in the image are similar crystals that are beyond the focal plane of the high-speed laser photomicroscope. Real-time modern analytical tools allow the reaction to be carefully monitored and enable control of the rate of crystal growth and hence purity.

Table 1: Analysis of Lithium Carbonate

Contaminant Concentration in Lithium Carbonate (ppm)
Chloride 141
Sulphate <50
Aluminium 14
Barium 5.34
Calcium 179
Chromium 2
Copper <0.8
Iron 10
Potassium <10
Magnesium 58.5
Manganese <0.4
Sodium 229
Strontium 42
Titanium 2.4
Yttrium 0.8
Zinc 3
Silicon 81
Total Impurities <785
Lithium Carbonate Purity >99.92 wt.%

“As seen in Table 1, the lithium carbonate produced from the Arkansas brine is of very high purity (>99.92 wt.%), as opposed to the normal industry benchmark for ‘battery quality’ which is usually understood to be >99.5 wt.%. Conversion of the lithium chloride to carbonate using a conventional process is ongoing, and is being performed by a third-party OEM/vendor in Plainfield, Illinois. Data from these tests will be released when available.”

Operations are ongoing at the LiSTR DLE plant in Arkansas and the SiFT Pilot Plant in BC and they continue to improve/tweak the systems to move toward commercialization. Additionally, the company wants to relocate the SiFT plant to be adjacent to the LiSTR DLE plant in Arkansas “so that it can be tied into the existing plant and operate on a continuous and integrated basis.”

Figure 3: A montage showing the scale and layout of the SiFT Pilot Plant in Richmond, BC, Canada.  The plant is modular and can be easily dismantled for transport to Arkansas when pandemic-related restrictions are eased or lifted.

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Zachary Shahan

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