Lithium Brines: A Global Perspective
Published:January 01, 2016
Lee Ann Munk, Scott A. Hynek, Dwight C. Bradley, David Boutt, Keith Labay, Hillary Jochens, 2016. "Lithium Brines: A Global Perspective", Rare Earth and Critical Elements in Ore Deposits, Philip L. Verplanck, Murray W. Hitzman
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Lithium is a critical and technologically important element that has widespread use, particularly in batteries for hybrid cars and portable electronic devices. Global demand for lithium has been on the rise since the mid-1900s and is projected to continue to increase. Lithium is found in three main deposit types: (1) pegmatites, (2) continental brines, and (3) hydrothermally altered clays. Continental brines provide approximately three-fourths of the world’s Li production due to their relatively low production cost. The Li-rich brine systems addressed here share six common characteristics that provide clues to deposit genesis while also serving as exploration guidelines. These are as follows: (1) arid climate; (2) closed basin containing a salar (salt crust), a salt lake, or both; (3) associated igneous and/or geothermal activity; (4) tectonically driven subsidence; (5) suitable lithium sources; and (6) sufficient time to concentrate brine. Two detailed case studies of Li-rich brines are presented; one on the longest produced lithium brine at Clayton Valley, Nevada, and the other on the world’s largest producing lithium brine at the Salar de Atacama, Chile.
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Rare Earth and Critical Elements in Ore Deposits
This special volume provides a comprehensive review of the current state of knowledge for rare earth and critical elements in ore deposits. The first six chapters are devoted to rare earth elements (REEs) because of the unprecedented interest in these elements during the past several years. The following eight chapters describe critical elements in a number of important ore deposit types. These chapters include a description of the deposit type, major deposits, critical element mineralogy and geochemistry, processes controlling ore-grade enrichment, and exploration guides. This volume represents an important contribution to our understanding of where, how, and why individual critical elements occur and should be of use to both geoscientists and public policy analysts.
The term “critical minerals” was coined in a 2008 National Research Council report (National Research Council, 2008). Although the NRC report used the term “critical minerals,” its focus was primarily on individual chemical elements. The two factors used in the NRC report to rank criticality were (1) the degree to which a commodity is essential, and (2) the risk of supply disruption for the commodity. Technological advancements and changes in lifestyles have changed the criticality of elements; many that had few historic uses are now essential for our current lifestyles, green technologies, and military applications. The concept of element criticality is useful for evaluation of the fragility of commodity markets. This fragility is commonly due to a potential risk of supply disruption, which may be difficult to quantify because it can be affected by political, economic, geologic, geographic, and environmental variables.
Identifying potential sources for some of the elements deemed critical can be challenging. Because many of these elements have had minor historic usage, exploration for them has been limited. Thus, as this volume highlights, the understanding of the occurrence and genesis of critical elements in various ore deposit models is much less well defined than for base and precious metals. A better understanding of the geologic and geochemical processes that lead to ore-grade enrichment of critical elements will aid in determining supply risk and was a driving factor for preparation of this volume. Understanding the gaps in our knowledge of the geology and geochemistry of critical elements should help focus future research priorities.
Critical elements may be recovered either as primary commodities or as by-products from mining of other commodities. For example, nearly 90% of world production of niobium (Nb) is from the Araxá niobium mine (Brazil), whereas gallium (Ga) is recovered primarily as a by-product commodity of bauxite mining or as a by-product of zinc processing from a number of sources worldwide.