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Q&A: New DLE method seeks to access US lithium reserves

  • : Metals
  • 24/06/24

Direct lithium extraction (DLE) technology has been around for a few years now, but several methods exist and are mine-specific. US-based Iliad technologies is attempting to find a universal method by which to extract lithium and export this technology to an increasingly diversified global lithium market.

Argus spoke with Iliad chief executive Samuel Moore. Edited highlights follow:

How does Iliad's DLE technology work?

It is born out of Energy Source Minerals, which is a company that is developing a project in California on the Salton Sea.

The genius of Iliad was really the need for technology that worked at high temperatures and could deal with the fluids coming up from the Salton Sea, and we decided there was not really anything on the market that was right for our project.

It is based on absorption desorption, which is one of the longer-standing methods of DLE that I know of. It has been used for 30-plus years and in Argentina. What happens is that the lithium-bearing brine enters the system. The kinetics of the brine push the lithium into an absorbent material that is designed to capture the lithium and ignore everything else. It is almost the reverse of a filter. Everything else washes through the system and is injected back into the ground.

Then we wash the lithium out of that absorbent material using just water. So we do not use any reagents, we do not use any acid, and we do not use any other harmful materials. It is a very clean system.

We run a continuous process and smaller columns with a very clever valve that basically pumps the fluid through 30 different columns of absorbent. We work the absorbent continuously to take a stream of lithium chloride out of the back end. It means we use a lot less absorbent and a lot less water.

Does Iliad technology work in different forms of brine, different from the geothermal brines in the Salton Sea?

One of the myths of DLE is that you need a different solution for different clients. We do not think this is true. We have tested on more than 30 different lines. We have tested geothermal obviously, but we have tested salars [large brine fields] and in Smackover [lithium mining area in the US]. We have tested waters that come up with oil and gas.

In different countries, we have a lot of data now and Iliad works universally with all of them.

I don't think it is true to say that each different project requires a different technology.

Our flavour of absorption desorption is very effective. We have tested brines with lithium of as low as 40 parts per million (ppm) and as high as up into the thousands. It works at both of these readings and at everything in between.

We are really confident and comfortable that there are technologies out there that have universal application, and we are going to be one of those.

Who could make use of this technology, and in what areas of the lithium sector?

Our modern take on DLE unlocks resources that couldn't really be developed before.

The traditional way to develop brine field lithium was with evaporation ponds in South America, but you get very large losses. You only get 40-50pc recovery when you do that, it takes a long time and the product quality is not there.

So DLE allows a step change in performance than what is currently in the the industry and targets resources that are not really able to be targeted today. If you come back to the US, say the Smackover formation, you may get to process 204ppm of lithium. South America has 600ppm-plus of lithium, so DLE gets you lower.

Then you get into the conversation around the geopolitics. Do I want to establish a lithium supply chain in the US, Europe and Canada — places that traditionally have not had one? I think DLE is going to be key to unlocking the domestic supply chain that the US government has clearly signalled is very important to it.

We raised independent capital from Livent, now Arcadium Lithium. It was our cornerstone investor throughout that process. So it has taken a shareholding early, which is really interesting because it is the one industry participant that has done DLE for 30 years in Argentina already.

How do lithium producers use DLE to reduce their impact on the environment?

This will be the cleanest lithium you can produce — no question. Take our first project, for example.

We are attached to the side of a geothermal power station. We capture the brine, so it comes to us hot. We capture the lithium using our method. Once the lithium has been removed, it goes back down the hole, in the same way that it does today. We use steam from the power station, and we use heat from the brine to do a lot of the processing.

We use water to capture the lithium out of the absorbent material. We have no reagents and no harsh chemicals. [It is a] very low energy requirement. Compare this to hard rock mining, where you have a very large carbon footprint, a massive land footprint and then a huge amount of chemical use and the processing of that ore.

You do not have evaporation ponds — once again, these leave a very large land footprint and incur very large water losses because you are evaporating the brine to the atmosphere to capture the salts left behind. So I mean, DLE — particularly really efficient DLE, like Iliad absorption desorption — will be the cleanest lithium you can get.


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24/07/18

India’s MRAI urges zero import duty on Al scrap

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China's Sunwoda plans $275mn battery plant in Vietnam


24/07/18
24/07/18

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BHP posts higher nickel output after disruptions


24/07/17
24/07/17

BHP posts higher nickel output after disruptions

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Rio Tinto to boost 2H Australian iron ore shipments


24/07/16
24/07/16

Rio Tinto to boost 2H Australian iron ore shipments

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Cliffs to buy Canadian steelmaker Stelco


24/07/15
24/07/15

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