8 min read

Why Lithium Should Be Sourced Responsibly

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In this article, we shall be discussing why lithium needs to be sourced responsibly. Before we go on to look at reasons why lithium should be sourced responsibly, let’s first have an overview of what lithium is.

An Overview of Lithium 

Lithium is part of the Group 1 Alkali Metals, which are highly reactive and are never found in their pure form in nature. Its electron configuration is responsible for its reactivity. Lithium has a single valence electron, allowing it to easily create bonds and form compounds. 

Also, lithium is the lightest alkali metal, making it an excellent choice for use in portable devices. Lithium ions are useful in chargeable lithium-ion batteries, in which the lithium ions flow from the positive to the negative electrode when charging and from the negative to the positive electrode when discharging. 

Lithium-ion batteries can also give three times the energy density of conventional rechargeable lead batteries. Due to its unique properties, lithium has earned the moniker 'white gold'. 

Why is Lithium in High Demand?

Most battery-powered devices like phones, digital cameras, tablets, laptops, and many more are likely to be powered by lithium-ion batteries. 

Lithium has various other uses. It can be used in things like heart pacemakers, toys, and clocks. Lithium can also be used for grid storage, in the manufacture of heat-resistant ceramics and glass, industrial greases, and even in treatments for bipolar disorder and depression. 

Along with smartphones, the boom in electric vehicles (EVs) is the most significant development that lithium has fueled since it first appeared in the market in the 1990s. 

This growth can be attributed in part to China's placing priority in the manufacture of electric vehicles in its 13th Five-Year Plan, which was launched in 2015. A Financial Times article published in 2020 reported that China manufactures 10,000 new electric vehicles monthly, all of which are powered by lithium-ion batteries.

International Battery Metals | Lithium Market

Lithium is in such high demand these days due to its importance in the transition to renewables. Its demand has risen in recent years as carmakers move toward EVs, and many countries, including the United Kingdom, France, Sweden, the Netherlands, Canada, and Norway announced plans to phase out combustion-engine cars. 

According to the World Bank, five times more lithium than is presently mined will be necessary to meet global climate targets by 2050. Although lithium has unique properties that make it so valuable, obtaining it by conventional means takes its toll on the environment. 

How is Lithium Extracted?

Lithium is typically found either in underground pockets of water, in mineral ore, or underground deposits of clay. Commonly, lithium is extracted from these deposits using two methods. One is to build a mine, extract the clay or ore, and then separate the metal via a complex process.

The second option is to pump underground water deposits to the surface. Lithium is extracted from the dried salts that remain after the resulting pools of briny liquid have been left to evaporate. 

The first process, more often than not, involves displacing thousands of acres of rock and dirt (known as overburden material), destroying plant life, and disrupting nearby land. The second method may consume much freshwater, which is usually obtained from aquifers, wells, or streams that are also used for drinking or farming. 

In the arid regions where lithium deposits are found, freshwater is a precious resource. So, both the first and second processes of lithium mining have an impact on not just the environment but also the local communities. 

Ensorcia Metals - Direct Lithium Extraction

What are the Social and Environmental Impacts of Lithium Mining?

Roughly 500,000 gallons of water go into extracting one ton of lithium. Mining activities consume 65 percent of the water in Chile's Salar de Atacama. In a region where the annual rainfall is less than 15 millimeters per year, the already scarce water resources that the local communities and species rely on are depleted further by the lithium extraction activity.  

Additionally, toxic chemicals that are used in the separation process, like hydrochloric acid, can leak into local water supplies and also impact air quality. Communities, many of whom are indigenous to the area and hold communal or traditional rights to land and resources, are usually displaced as a result of water shortages for themselves and their livestock. 

Extracting lithium consumes huge quantities of water and leaves a big footprint. Indigenous communities in Argentina and Chile have suffered the most from lithium mining activities. LITH is passionate about lithium mining and together with our partner Ensorcia Metals, we are out to remedy the adverse effects of lithium mining activities.

You can learn more about our partnership with Ensorcia Metals and how this partnership will help remedy the adverse effects of traditional lithium mining methods by reading our other post by clicking below. 

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How Can Lithium Be Mined Responsibly?

With recent innovations in technology, a technique of procuring lithium that is both environmentally friendly and highly efficient has emerged. This new process was created to preserve the water supply and the land.  

IBAT's innovative technology powers the method that optimizes the production value of lithium extraction as well as significantly increases the environmental consideration to the extraction process, satisfying both economic and social concerns that surround the lithium mining industry. 

This cutting-edge lithium mining process employs a mobile lithium extraction plant, which reduces the time it takes from startup to extracting lithium, and also requires less start-up capital. 

Another inventive process in lithium mining technology that minimizes risk and adds value is the use of amphibious vehicles (cars that can both drive on land and float in water) to safely transport materials across the various ground surfaces in the salt flats. 

By working with Sorcia Minerals and Ensorcia Metals, IBAT is able to bring this innovative lithium mining technology (Selective Absorption technology) to the salt flats of South America.

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Why Lithium Should Be Sourced Responsibly

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