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This process may produce lithium from borate process waste

By Gerald Parkinson |

Rio Tinto (London, U.K.; www.riotinto.com) will shortly start up a pilot plant to produce battery-grade lithium carbonate from 90 years’ accumulated plant waste at its U.S. Borax operation in Boron, Calif. The waste is clay from the production of borates, in which borax ore is crushed and mixed with hot water to dissolve the borates, then the undissolved solids are screened out. The waste contains about 2,000 ppm of lithium, says Richard Cohen, managing director of borates and lithium. Rio Tinto recovers the lithium by roasting and leaching. Cohen declines to give further details, but a conventional method is to use dilute sulfuric acid to leach lithium from ore. Rio Tinto says the process has been proved on a small scale and will be optimized in a pilot plant that will produce 10-m.t./yr of lithium-carbonate equivalent. The process is expected to have an economic advantage, since the metal has already been mined.
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