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Geothermal brine may be a new U.S. source of lithium

By Gerald Parkinson |

Currently the U.S. has only one domestic source of lithium, a vital element in lithium-ion batteries and other products, but this could be changed through processes being developed by two California companies. Furthest along is a project of EnergySource Minerals LLC (San Diego, Calif.; www.energysource.us.com) to obtain lithium from geothermal brine. The company has a pilot plant at a geothermal power plant near Southern California’s Salton Sea, where its affiliate, EnergySource, produces electricity by pumping geothermal brine of about 500°F and 500 psig through wells and flashing it to produce steam for turbines. The brine contains about 25–30% solids, including about 250 parts per million (ppm) of lithium. Silica is managed by a crystallizer-clarifier process and the spent brine, containing dissolved solids, is reinjected into the ground. In the lithium process, clarified brine is purified, then lithium is selectively extracted by a proprietary adsorbent and recovered by a water wash. The process is continuous and the plant design is mechanically simple, with multiple columns controlled by a single valve, says Derek Benson, EnergySource’s chief operating officer. “We get high lithium recovery and very high rejection of…
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