US firm to ‘mine’ lithium from geothermal plant brines
California based Simbol Materials says that it has begun producing ‘the world’s highest purity’ lithium carbonate for use in electrolytes for EV batteries and other energy storage applications. The company has opened a demonstration facility near the Salton Sea in Imperial Valley, California, that can extract lithium and other components of lithium ion batteries from the wastewater of geothermal plants. This is the first facility of its kind in the US, though other companies operate two similar ones in Japan and China. For the US, this is a nice move forward in lengthening the supply chain for the components that go into electric vehicles,’ Simbol’s CEO, Luka Erceg, tells Chemistry World.Simbol taps a nearby geothermal power plant for its brine by-product, which is laden with metals. After removing silica, Simbol’s end product is a pristine brine that is loaded with lithium, manganese and zinc. ‘Once we have separated out the metal we want, we have got it in a chloride form and we start the conversion to the products that the market wants,’ Erceg says. But such separation is no simple task.The brine that Simbol works with contains half the periodic table. ‘We can surgically extract the elements that we want, and that is where we differentiate ourselves from the majority,’ Erceg says.