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Comment Separation Processes

Extracting lithium without roasting

By Paul Grad |

Lithium Australia NL (Perth, Western Australia; lithium-au.com) has generated 99.8% (battery-grade) lithium carbonate from lithium-bearing silicates, such as spodumene, using its Sileach process — a hydrometallurgical process that does not require an energy-intensive roasting step. The company says Sileach has the ability to process contaminated spodumene concentrates and allows the recovery of components other than lithium as byproducts, including silicon and aluminum.

The company’s spodumene originated from Pilbara Minerals Ltd.’s (Perth; www.pilbaraminerals.com.au) Pilgangoora lithium-tantalum project, located 120 km from Port Hedland in Western Australia’s Pilbara region.

Sileach involves mixing the lithium-bearing material with a source of fluoride, such as CaF2 or HF in the presence of sulfuric acid at 90°C for about 3 h to extract about 80% of the lithium. Li2CO3 of more than 98% purity is obtained by raising the pH of the pregnant liquor solution to 4 to precipitate aluminum and fluoride from solution, with a subsequent softening step to remove excess CaSO4, followed by evaporation and precipitation of Li2CO3. The addition of halogens, such as fluoride, is essential to the operation of Sileach. The halogens attack the chemical bonds in the silicate mineral, causing all metals to go into solution.

Lithium Australia has lodged an international patent application for Sileach. ANSTO Minerals — a division of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization (Lucas Heights; www.ansto.gov.au) — provided technical assistance in the development of Sileach. Performance enhancement studies are being conducted on a bench scale and improvements will be incorporated into the ANSTO Minerals pilot plant and into design specifications for a large-scale pilot plant. Further pilot testing is planned on a range of minerals including lepidolite, zinnwaldite and spodumene.

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