Lithium is the most important element of rechargeable batteries, and according to EuroNews, both demand and prices for this material have increased significantly.
Lithium can be obtained in two different ways, either through extracting it from brine, or through mining ore, and the focus right now is making these processes more sustainable.
Mining lithium from spodumene - a pyroxene mineral consisting of lithium aluminium inosilicate, LiAl(SiO3)2, and is a source of lithium - is a complicated process that requires heavy machinery, toxic chemicals and a lot of water. This has a considerable effect on the environment, as it implies earth removal and creating embankments to store the contaminated water.
Lithium mines can be very dangerous if failure occurs, as it happened with the Ganzizhou Rongda Lithium mine, where chemical leaks from the mine resulted in thousands of fish being killed, among other effects on the environment.
Brine extraction is not as complex as the first process, but it requires even more water in order for it to be completed.
Firstly, lithium brine is pumped to the surface where it is stored in huge ponds and then, with the help of chemicals, the water is being evaporated which enables the lithium to be collected.
This process, however, isn't efficient at all, as about 70% of the lithium found in brines is lost, the chemicals used can infiltrate in the ground and even the water required isn't as widely available anymore.
The problem with sourcing lithium comes from the increased demand in the automotive industry, as an electric vehicle requires, on average, about 63 kg of lithium carbonate for the battery system.
When you consider the fact that over 5 million EVs were populating roads globally in 2020 and 145 million of them are expected to be used by 2030, we can see the problem of sourcing lithium.
At COP26, the climate change-focused conference held by the United Nations, governments across the globe committed to reducing environmental damage and to creating a low-carbon economy in order to mitigate the effects of the climate changes.
Officials must find ways to implement more sustainable methods of extracting lithium in order to reduce the impact on the environment and the communities near extraction plants.
DLE is not only much more efficient when it comes to time and cost, but it is also supposed to enable up to 90% lithium extraction from brine compared to the current 30%.
Also, this technology doesn't have nearly the same environmental impact, as it doesn't use chemicals, heavy machinery or large amounts of water.
Technology in the green energy sector needs to advance if we want to mitigate the effects current lithium extraction processes have and we might need to look at alternatives to lithium-based batteries as well for a more sustainable, healthier future.