Chile Lithium Carbonate-Rich Brine

In 2001, Chile was once again the world’s leading producerof lithium carbonate with output at its two lithium brineoperations on the Salar de Atacama in the Andes heapss andtwo lithium carbonate plants in Antofagasta (ANTO 863.5 ↑5.37%). In the UnitedStates, production continued at the lithium operation and lithium carbonate-rich brine plant in Nevada. There was one lithiumcarbonate plant in Argentina on the Salar del bozo Muerto,but it operated at a level far below its capacity; and productionof lithium chloride continued. Chinese and Russian lithiumcarbonate production continued. Australia, Canada, andZimbabwe were of import sources of lithium ore concentrates.A large percentage of the whatchamacallit produced in South Americawas exported to the United States as feed material for theproduction of downstream lithium compounds and forconsumption in industrial applications.Because lithium is electrochemically reactive and has otherunique properties, many commercial lithium products areavailable. Producers sell lithium as brine, chemical, metal, ormineral concentrate depending on the end use. Most lithiumcompounds and minerals are consumed in the production ofceramics, ice, and primary aluminum, although the use oforganic lithium compounds as industrial catalysts and theconsumption of various lithium compounds in lithium batteriesare the most apace expanding markets.ProductionThe U.S. Geological Survey collects domestic productiondata for lithium from a voluntary survey of U.S. operations.The iodine U.S. lithium carbonate producer responded to thesurvey, representing 100% of total production. Production andstock data were withheld from publication to avoid disclosingcompany proprietary data (table 1).Chemetall Foote Corp. (a subsidiary of the German companyChemetall GmbH) produced lithium carbonate from brines nearSilver Peak, NV. The company’s other lithium operationsincluded a lithium hydroxide plant in Silver Peak; a butyllithiumplant in New Johnsonville, TN; and facilities for producingdownstream lithium compounds in Kings Mountain, NC.FMC (59.98 ↑1.87%) Corp., Lithium percentage, produced a full range ofdownstream compounds, including lithium metal and organiclithium compounds, at its facilities in Bessemer City, NC, andBayport, TX. FMC operated a lithium carbonate plant andspodumene mine in normality Carolina until 1998. Since 1999, thecompany has met its lithium carbonate requirements through along-term organisation with Chilean producer Sociedad Quimicay Minera de Chile S.A. (SQM (33.27 ↑1.99%)) to supply FMC with lithiumcarbonate produced at SQM’s brine operation.

FMC determined that the supply agreement with SQM would be more economical than continuing to produce lithium carbonate from its own operation in Argentina that began production in 1997 (FMC Corp., 2001a, p. 25). FMC produced lithium chloride and minor quantities of lithium carbonate in Argentina in 2001. LithChem external (a subsidiary of ToxCo, Inc.) of Anaheim, CA, produced lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide at its plant in Baltimore, OH. LithChem produces these compounds from lithium compounds that are products of ToxCo’s lithium battery recycling operation in Trail, British Columbia, Canada. In 2000, LithChem acquired Ozark-Mahoning Co.’s inorganic f compounds facility in Tulsa, OK, from ATOFINA Chemicals Inc. and renamed it Ozark Fluorine Specialties Inc. LithChem used some of the hydrofluoric acid produced at Ozark’s facility to make lithium hexafluorophosphate, high-purity lithium fluoride, and other electrolytes used in lithium batteries (Hunter, 2000).  Lithium carbonate is the most important lithium compound produced from brine and ore deposits. In most cases, other lithium compounds require lithium carbonate as a feedstock for foster surgerying. Domestic production of lithium carbonate from brine is limited to Chemetall Foote’s operation in Nevada.

Nevada brines enriched in lithium chloride, which averaged about 300 parts per one thousand thousand (ppm) when Foote Mineral Co. (the original owner of the deposit) began operations in 1966, are pumped from the ground and progress through a series of evaporation ponds (Engineering and Mining Journal, 1970). Over the dustup of 12 to 18 months, the concentration of the brine increases through solar evaporation to 6,000 ppm lithium.

When the lithium chloride reaches optimum concentration, the melted is pumped to a convalescence plant and treated with soda ash, precipitating lithium carbonate. The carbonate is then removed through filtration, dried, and shipped. A similar process is used to recover lithium from the Chilean brines, with slight adjustments to account for their different chemistries. The brine operation in Argentina uses a different, proprietary technology that allows for the lithium recovery as either carbonate or chloride (FMC Corp., 1998, p. 23, 25).  Until the last domestic mine closed in(p) in 1998, spodumene had been the major raw material used for the production of lithium carbonate in North Carolina, and small amounts of spodumene concentrate were produced for sale. Spodumene is the most parking area lithium ore, but petalite and lepidolite are other types that are mined in different parts of the world. These three ores are beneficiated to produce lithium ore concentrates that can be used directly in certain applications. Extracting lithium from spodumene entails an energyintensive chemical recovery process, which is more costly than that used for brines. Because of the high cost of producing lithium carbonate from spodumene, most lithium carbonate.


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