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Korea: POSCO aims to drive faster lithium processing

Lithium is a core component in the batteries that could power the cars of the future. Source: The Daily Telegraph

NEW lithium extraction technology unveiled by South Korean steelmaker POSCO potentially will transform the global market for the soft white metal, which is used in making lithium-ion batteries for smartphones, iPods and electric vehicles.

There are two main lithium extraction methods: either through evaporation from salt-pan brines, sourced mainly from South America’s “lithium triangle” in the Andes mountains straddling Chile, Bolivia and Argentina; or from hard-rock mining at sites such as Talison Lithium’s Greenbushes plant in Western Australia.

Evaporative processing is slower but cheaper than hard-rock mining.

POSCO revealed late last month its chemical treatment of brine at a pilot plant in South Korea cut processing times from the current average of a year or more using the evaporate method to less than a month. It said a small amount of lithium could be extracted from the brine in as little as eight hours.

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In addition, it said the lithium recovery rate exceeded 80 per cent, compared with the industry standard of 40 to 50 per cent.

Globally, lithium consumption is about 130,000 tonnes a year of lithium carbonate equivalent, with Santiago-based industry consultancy SignumBOX estimating consumption will grow 15 to 20 per cent in 2012 on the back of battery demand. South Korea uses about 13,000 tonnes of lithium a year in its battery industry, but all of this must be imported.


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