Lithium, a key component for fast-growing rechargeable battery markets, powers everything from consumer electronics to electric cars and energy storage systems.
Although lithium is a relatively abundant metal, high-purity lithium chemicals used by battery makers are rarer because lithium extraction, either from brines or hard-rock, consists of a series of complex operations that make design production rates hard to achieve. Whilst these issues are also common in other mining sectors, the problems with lithium are compounded because of the reduced number of lithium plants in operation which means that the industry know-how is limited.
To mitigate the risks of the project and confirm that the proposed technical and commercial process is both feasible and scalable, Bacanora, a lithium exploration and development company, relied on Veolia’s deep lithium production expertise to test the process flow sheet developed during the feasibility study and simulate the unit operations planned for the Sonora Lithium Project, an integrated mine in northern Mexico designed to reach a capacity of 17,500 tonnes per annum battery-grade Li2CO3 (lithium carbonate) operation in its first phase.
Different from most of the world’s lithium which is produced from hard rock mines in Australia or from brines in South America, the lithium at Sonora is mined from clay — a rare type of deposit with the potential to become one of the world’s largest and lowest-cost lithium resources.
Integrated to this innovative plant, Veolia designed an evaporation circuit with a double crystallization sequence featuring HPD® thermal separation technologies to maximize the recovery of potassium sulfate, a specialty fertilizer also known as sulfate of potash (SOP), and sodium sulfate, a valuable salt that is recycled upstream as the reagent in the clay roasting process. The production line is completed by ion-exchange purification, solid-liquid centrifugal separation and drying systems to achieve >99.5% battery-grade lithium carbonate.
“We are proud to help game-changing miners in search of a partner with the knowhow to produce lithium from a variety of feedstocks. Veolia looks forward to further supporting the transformation of Bacanora into a major supplier of battery-grade lithium chemicals” said Jim Brown, Executive Vice President Veolia Water Technologies Americas.
Veolia’s exhaustive testing program and process design expertise with HPD® evaporation and crystallization technologies, validated Bacanora’s product purity requirements while removing potassium and converting a waste stream into a high-value-added fertilizer. Because lithium mining is inherently risky, Veolia partners with developers and producers to improve their environmental performance and optimize their operations to help them extract the most economic value out of the production of high-purity lithium chemicals.