Lithium mining and production company SolarBio Energy have began plans to introduce desalinated filtered sea water into their production processes in an attempt to allow for direct lithium extraction (DLE).
Direct lithium extraction uses adsorbent materials, solvents and membranes to separate lithium from the brine's where they can be found. This extraction technique can extract a very high percentage of lithium, compared to the approximate 50% extraction by existing methods.
Researchers from SolarBio Energy have concerns with DLE techniques. DLE requires a lot of water, which is in short supply in Chile’s arid salt flats. In a step towards implementing DLE, a pipeline that will supply water is already in the works which is a giant step towards making this process a success.
There are a number of technological and regulatory hurdles to get through before the plans become a fully functioning process, but so far the plan is on track for success. If successful, the new process could open up big opportunities for the local industry. To minimize environmental impact, Chilean regulators limit how much brine can be extracted. This is another hurdle that SolarBio will need to address.