DLE: Meeting Lithium Supply Demands

Written By Luke Burgess

Posted September 6, 2023

Lithium is the backbone of the rapidly expanding realm of clean energy technologies, from propelling wind turbines to fueling EVs and bolstering electrical grids. 

According to projections from the International Energy Agency (IEA), the demand for lithium is poised to skyrocket by as much as 1.1 million tons by 2040.

Total Lithium Demand by Sector and Scenario

Lithium is not an extremely rare resource. There are lithium mines on every continent except Antarctica. However, despite the relatively widespread presence of lithium mines, global supply still struggles to meet the growing demand.

In 2021–2022, the global lithium supply experienced a deficit ranging from 9%–12%. And looking ahead to 2035, this deficit is projected to expand significantly, representing a 24% deficit compared with demand. To meet this challenge, miners will have to adapt new technologies and production techniques.

Today, commercial production relies one of two methods to produce lithium: 

  1. Evaporative ponds: Producers slowly concentrate lithium in ponds as evaporation takes place. 
  2. Lithium mines: Producers remove waste rock (overburden) to uncover the lithium host rock and dispose of the overburden in waste dumps. Lithium-bearing rock is mined, crushed, milled, and processed to produce a lithium concentrate and a tailings stream. 

Lithium mining via evaporative ponds presents several significant challenges. First, it requires a vast amount of water, which contributes to water scarcity issues and environmental concerns. Moreover, this method is very time-consuming, taking up to two years to concentrate lithium-rich brine into a final commercial product. 

Mining lithium through traditional rock mining also presents its set of challenges. It often requires significant amounts of energy and resources to extract lithium from ores, contributing to higher production costs and environmental impacts. Additionally, the mining process can generate substantial waste and emissions, further straining ecosystems and raising concerns about sustainability.

And that’s where a technology known as direct lithium extraction (DLE) has emerged as a crucial solution to address these challenges.

DLE: Meeting Lithium Supply Demands

Direct lithium extraction is swiftly revolutionizing the lithium industry, ushering in a new era of enhanced efficiency and improved cost-effectiveness. 

In short, direct lithium extraction uses specialized materials and methods to selectively capture lithium ions from lithium-rich brine solutions deep underground. 

Following this capture, the lithium is then separated and concentrated to create a high-purity lithium product suitable for various industrial applications.

Direct Lithium Extraction Model

DLE offers a lot of advantages over current mining processes, including reduced environmental impact and higher lithium yields.

One of the most compelling advantages of DLE is higher recovery rates. Evaporation ponds typically recover between 30% and 60% of the lithium in the brine. On average, lithium from ore mines tends to have a slightly higher recovery rate of up to 70%. But the company’s DLE technology blows them both out of the water with lithium recovery rates over 90%.

DLE technology can also recover lithium in minutes rather than months. As mentioned before, it can take up to two years for brine to concentrate into a final product at lithium evaporation ponds. This remarkable efficiency positions DLE as a game-changing solution to rapidly meet the escalating demand for lithium resources.

Additionally, DLE plants require a far smaller land footprint than evaporative ponds or rock mining operations, making them a more environmentally friendly and space-efficient choice for lithium production.

What’s more, DLE technology can tap into untapped lithium deposits. This capability to unlock previously inaccessible lithium reserves ushers in new opportunities for lithium production, diminishing the industry's reliance on finite sources.

One last standout feature of DLE technology is its modular design, which allows for flexible and scalable production setups. This adaptability and compatibility with existing infrastructure make DLE a practical and strategic choice for both emerging and established lithium operations.

Comparison of Lithium Extraction Methods

In conclusion, direct lithium extraction is poised to revolutionize the lithium industry, offering tangible benefits in the form of reduced emissions, water conservation, and access to previously untapped resources.

With its cost-competitive nature, scalability, and minimal environmental impact, DLE emerges as a game-changing force that aligns seamlessly with the global demand for sustainable and efficient energy solutions.

As this technology continues to mature and gain wider adoption, it holds the promise of reshaping the global lithium landscape for the better, contributing to a more sustainable and electrified future.

Curious to learn more?

My colleague Alex Koyfman has recently uncovered one company that’s pioneering this new DLE method and already has a contract with a Canadian oil and gas producer to process the brine ponds located on a 671-square-mile property in northwest Alberta.

On this property is an estimated 4.3 million tons of lithium carbonate, worth as much as $322 billion at today’s market prices.

This company estimates that it can produce up to 20,000 tons annually at a cost of $3,000–$4,000 per ton of salable lithium. At the going rate of $70,000 per ton, this presents a huge upside potential, with revenues in the billions of dollars once production ramps up.

Alex just published a brand-new report that discusses everything. Don't miss out on this chance to be at the forefront of the lithium industry's evolution! Check out this report NOW!