Lithium ore processing – an overview of the current and new processes
School of Engineering
The current surge of interest in lithium (Li) is due to the anticipated demand for electric vehicles and small scale power storage. Brine deposits contain most of the global Li resource, however hard rock deposits can be more readily and rapidly developed and comprise the majority of proposed projects. These projects plan to use the conventional processing routes of dense medium separation and / or flotation to produce a spodumene concentrate for sale. The standard route for subsequent processing of spodumene concentrate is thermal decrepitation, acid leaching, solution purification and precipitation of lithium carbonate. This is typically followed by further purification. A number of projects have ores which contain other lithium minerals, principally micas, lepidolite and zinnwaldite, necessitating an alternative treatment route. Several different routes for spodumene processing are under development to reduce costs to compete with brine projects. This paper will give an overview of the strengths and weaknesses of the current and alternative processes.