New Geothermal Tech Addition Could Produce Lithium



Nesjavellir Geothermal Power Plant in Þingvellir, Iceland.

Nesjavellir Geothermal Power Plant in Þingvellir, Iceland.

It’s possible that geothermal power plants may be useful for generating more than just electricity. Technology company Simbol Materials is developing an industrial add-on for geothermal facilities that can produce lithium from brine (the mixture of water and various elements used by geothermal stations). This new advance could result in an economically feasible source of lithium for use in batteries and other electronics.

Typically geothermal plants either release used water in the form of steam through smoke stacks or condense the steam back into water and reinject it into the geothermal reservoir. Instead this new process would take the resulting steam used for powering turbines and condense it back to water then filter the water to extract the mineral content. Volume lost by filtering out these minerals would be replaced with water sourced outside the reservoir to maintain the volume of water being reinjected into the reservoir for reuse. Right now the system can harvest lithium, manganese, and zinc but Simbol CEO Luka Erceg says that in the future they hope to expand this portfolio of extractable resources. “This brine has got half the periodic table in it and that’s a good news–bad news situation,” said Erceg.

There are many advantages to this new method of lithium extraction over traditional mining operations. Perhaps one of the most beneficial is that waste carbon dioxide from geothermal facilities can be used to create lithium carbonate instead of using soda ash as other operations require. Additionally the filtration process can remove only what is specifically sought after reinjecting unwanted silica and other materials back into the geothermal well.

It has yet to be seen if this new method of obtaining lithium will be cost effective enough to warrant commercial use as it has only been accomplished in a proof of concept type experimental facility. However it is a promising and interesting new technology that provides yet another example of reusing and recycling. Erceg says, “You can produce 16,000 metric tons of lithium carbonate for every 50-megawatt geothermal power plant,” and that would definitely have an impact on global lithium supplies if many geothermal stations implement this technology.

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