What is Lithium?
Where is it found?
Economic concentrations of lithium are found in brines, minerals and clays in various parts of the world. Brines and high-grade lithium ores are the present source for all commercial lithium production. The largest known deposits of lithium are in Bolivia and Chile.
The brines, volcanic in origin, are present in desert areas and occur in playas and salars where lithium has been concentrated by solar evaporation. In the salars (saline desert basins sometimes known as salt lakes or salt flats), the brine is contained at or below the surface and is pumped into large solar evaporation ponds for concentration prior to processing. When the basin surfaces are predominantly composed of silts and clays with some salt incrustation, they are referred to as playas. If the surface is predominantly salt they are called salars. Although the fundamental character of the deposits is similar, there is great variability in size, surface character, stratigraphy, structure, chemistry, infrastructure and solar evaporation rates.
The recovery of lithium from hard rock minerals, such as spodumene in pegmatites, is through open pit or underground hard rock mines using conventional mining techniques. The ore is then processed and concentrated using a variety of methods prior to direct use or further processing into lithium compounds.
Lithium also occurs in significant concentrations in the mineral hectorite, a trioctahedral smectite, which forms the Western Lithium hectorite clay deposit. The lithium bearing clay of Western Lithium's Nevada deposit lies near the surface where it can be mined from an open pit, without blasting. The lithium will be extracted from the clay through a pyrometallurgical (roasting) method.
In addition, several areas of the world carry potential lithium raw materials in the form of geothermal and oil-well brines.