National Geographic : 2019 Feb
5.7 40 0.2 0.8 6.8 0.8 14.2 9.8 0.2 1.9 1 1 0.8 0.4 0.1 1 0.2 0.2 0.5 6.8 7 5 9 8.4 ARGENTINA BRAZIL ZIMBABWE PORTUGAL BELGIUM GERMANY BOLIVIA UNITED STATES CHILE CHINA JAPAN SOUTH KOREA CZECHIA AUSTRALIA CANADA DEM. REP. OF THE CONGO RUSSIA SERBIA SPAIN MALI MEXICO AFRICA NORTH AMERICA SOUTH AMERICA EUROPE ASIA 2006 2017 2011 70 35 0 1990 2000 2015 300 150 0 COST PER KILOWATT- HOUR ENERGY DENSITY IN WATT-HOURS PER KILOGRAM $3,000 1,500 0 Density Cost 1930 1984 1991 2016 20 10 0 First production of commercial lithium-ion batteries Chile begins producing lithium from brines THOUSANDS OF METRIC TONS *Unknown Hard rock Brine Consumption Production Excluding U.S. THOUSANDS OF METRIC TONS Estimates Pond Pond Physical separation Mine Water evaporation Water evaporation Chemical processing Chemical processing Saline aquifer Brine that is not used Lithium chemicals Lithium chemicals Mineral concentrate Ore Hard-rock minerals Brines 67% 33% Ceramics and glass 27% Batteries 46% Polymer production 5% Air treatment 2% Other 9% Lubricating greases 7% Casting mold flux powders 4% CHARGING AHEAD WHERE IT IS AND WHERE IT GOES Powering the technology of today Lithium’s unique chemical properties—it’s the lightest of all metals, heat resistant, and capable of storing substantial amounts of energy in batteries— are fueling a global rush to extract it from hard-rock minerals and brines. HOW LITHIUM IS EXTRACTED WHAT LITHIUM IS USED FOR Lithium deposits around the world are estimated at 53 million metric tons. Australia currently leads in extraction, but South America is the continent with the greatest amount of this valuable resource. Lithium can be produced from either hard-rock minerals or brines. Processing lithium from hard rock is faster but expensive; processing it from brine is typically cheaper but takes much longer. Key to heat-resistant ceramics, glass, and lubricants, it’s also increasingly used in high- capacity rechargeable batteries. A growing hybrid and electric-vehicle market is raising demand. HARD-ROCK MINERALS Lithium-containing minerals such as spodumene can be found in pegmatites, which are coarse-grained, igneous rocks. TOTAL PRODUCTION In 2017, lithium produced from hard-rock minerals surpassed brine production, mostly because Australia’s output tripled. Concentrates 11% A lower, technical grade of lithium can strengthen prod- ucts like ceramics and glass. Lithium-bearing min- eral deposits are mined underground or from surface pits. The hard-rock ore is crushed, and the lithium minerals are separated out into a concentrate. Processing, including acid leaching and roast- ing, yields lithium-based chemicals. Wells drilled into under- ground aquifers pump lithium-bearing brine to the surface. Brine is moved through a series of surface ponds to concentrate the lithium and remove impurities. Concentrated brine is treated to create lithium chemicals, which are filtered out and dried. BRINES Varying concentrations of dissolved lithium are found in underground saltwater solu- tions called continental brines. Bolivia has a sixth of the world’s lithium resources, but produc- tion hasn’t yet reached commercial scale. Lithium Resources The amount estimated to be in a country, measured in millions of metric tons of lithium content. Mining Production How much lithium was extracted in 2017. Each square equals a thousand metric tons. Carbonate Exports Lithium is often refined into this key commod- ity. Exports are shown in thousands of metric tons in 2017. Australia predominantly exports lithium- rich mineral concentrates. Chemicals 89% Lithium compounds can be obtained from both brine and hard-rock minerals. PRODUCTION RAMPS UP LITHIUM WORLDWIDE LITHIUM EXTRACTION LITHIUM-ION BATTERIES Projecting high demand for lithium compounds, mining production outpaced consumption worldwide in 2017, according to estimates. BRINE VS. HARD ROCK Hard-rock minerals were the main source of lithium until the 1990s, when brines, a cheaper source of lithium carbonate, overtook them. BETTER BATTERIES Advances in engineering and manufacturing have cut costs and improved the energy den- sity of lithium-ion batteries since they were commercially introduced in 1991. *“UNKNOWN” INCLUDES LITHIUM DATA FROM THE U.S. (1936-1998) AND CHINA (2000-2017) THAT DOESN’T DISCLOSE THE BREAKDOWN BETWEEN HARD-ROCK AND BRINE SOURCES. MEASUREMENTS ARE IN METRIC TONS (A METRIC TON IS 2,205 POUNDS) OF LITHIUM CONTENT. MANUEL CANALES AND MATTHEW W. CHWASTYK, NGM STAFF; AMANDA HOBBS; RONALD PANIAGUA. SOURCES: BRIAN JASKULA, U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY; BRENT A. ELLIOTT AND RAHUL VERMA, BUREAU OF ECONOMIC GEOLOGY, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS; BRINE VS. HARD ROCK CHART: S.H. MOHR AND OTHERS, MINERALS 2012 (UPDATED USING REFERENCES CITED IN ARTICLE); BATTERIES CHART: ADAPTED WITH PERMISSION FROM MRS BULLETIN 40 (2015) PRODUCTION TIME: LESS THAN A MONTH PRODUCTION TIME: TYPICALLY 8 TO 18 MONTHS 1 1 2 2 3 3 2 4 3 8 13 18 Lithium deposits Brine Hard-rock mineral The U.S. imports lith- ium to manufacture many products but is not a major extractor of the resource.