LG Chem Ltd. (Seoul, South Korea) supplied reverse osmosis (RO) membranes to China’s largest salt-lake lithium extraction project. The company has shipped more than 10,000 RO membranes to the Guoan lithium extraction project led by CITIC Group, China’s largest state-owned investment company. The Guoan project, which kickstarted its full-scale operation in Qinghai province this year, is the largest salt-lake lithium extraction project in China.
TUS-Qingyuan, which manages the lithium-extraction project across engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC), expects to produce 20,000 ton/yr of lithium carbonate by using LG Chem’s RO membranes (photo). This is equivalent to manufacturing batteries for nearly half a million EVs. In addition, this is the world’s largest lithium extraction project using a filtration device.
RO membrane significantly reduces the amount of energy required for lithium production. To obtain lithium dissolved in salt lakes, water must be evaporated to increase its concentration which had been performed by applying heat to remove water. With the reverse osmosis process using RO membranes, however, it allows to quickly filter out the water molecules without applying heat.
LG Chem’s RO membrane is primarily used for seawater desalination, characterized by a high level of impurity removal rate and a high production flow. In addition, the company’s products have been recognized for excellent durability compared to those of its competitors, as several lithium extraction projects in China other than the Guoan project implemented LG Chem’s product.
Five out of nine salt-lake lithium extraction projects in China adopted the RO membrane method. As a result, the RO membrane market in China expectsii to grow by more than 8% each year, reaching a market size of KRW2.2 trillion (CNY11.9 billion, $1.68 billion) by 2025. LG Chem plans to expand sales of its RO membrane in other salt-lake lithium projects in China and South America.
For efficient lithium extraction, LG Chem is collaborating with Korea University to develop RO membranes for next-generation direct lithium extraction (DLE) process that extracts lithium from the directly from salt-lake which significantly reduces the lead time for concentrating lithium from months to hours. LG Chem is conducting research on identifying RO membrane element that increases lithium’s recovery rate and purity with higher levels of durability. Once the DLE is applied at full-scale, the process becomes more straightforward with higher extraction efficiency while significantly reducing environmental pollution throughout the lithium production process.
“In line with the surge in global demand for lithium, LG Chem will lead the market by combining our global leadership in battery materials and RO membranes,” says Hyung Hoon, head of LG Water Solutions. “We will continue to offer differentiated values for our customers by developing a sustainable and eco-friendly lithium production process.”