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Simplified, Cost Effective Process for Extracting Lithium from Natural Brines

National Energy Technology Laboratory

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Technology Marketing Summary

Research is active on the development and refinement of a process for the extraction of lithium from natural brines. This invention is available for licensing and/or further collaborative research from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory.


Geothermal brines are hydrothermal fluids naturally heated under the earth’s surface and are a known source of environmentally sustainable, renewable energy. Additionally, these brines can exhibit significant concentrations of valuable minerals and critical metals. While the exact chemical composition of geothermal brines can vary with location, most brines in the U.S. contain relatively high lithium (Li) content.

Li is used in advanced clean energy technologies including fuel cells, electric vehicles, and renewable energy applications. Because of its importance in energy storage devices, Li has been identified as a near-critical material (second highest ranking) in the US DOE 2011 Critical Materials Strategy. Currently, the U.S. largely relies on foreign sources of Li due to limited domestic production.

The conventional process used to extract Li from brines requires a series of football field-sized evaporation ponds and lengthy acid/base leaching processes. The multi-step method is extremely time consuming, taking 18?24 months to produce Li compounds such as lithium carbonate (Li2CO3), lithium chloride, and lithium hydroxide. In addition, the process is expensive, energy intensive, and frequently requires brine transportation for processing steps that result in the in the emission of large quantities of carbon dioxide (CO2).

This invention describes a two-step process for the extraction of Li from natural brines; directly generating Li2CO3, an industrially useful product. The method uses a unique carbon pressure-based process parameter to first concentrate Li as ions in the brine solution; followed by the extraction of Li as Li2CO3 through the application of CO2 gas to the concentrated brine under predetermined conditions. The proposed approach is a combination of simple concepts, and can be implemented using existing geothermal technologies. The source of CO2 used in the separation process can be waste gas from other industrial processes generating CO2. This novel process significantly reduces the overall cost, time, and energy demand for Li extraction from geothermal brines while reducing CO2 emissions.


· Simplified process for the recovery of Li from natural brines

· Process uses CO2 as the only additive—which can be sourced from other industrial waste streams—significantly reducing processing time, energy requirements, and overall CO2 emissions

· Process can be fully operational at the brine source, eliminating the need for transportation or concentration of brines

· Process can be implemented using existing geothermal technologies

· Deployment of this technology will reduce U.S. dependency on foreign Li sources

· Large byproduct credits (sodium chloride, calcium carbonate, etc.)

Applications and Industries

· Extraction of Li from natural brines or other sources such as sea water

· Extraction and recovery of other dissolved elements

More Information

U.S. Non-provisional Patent Application No. 15/728,784 filed October 10, 2017, titled “Selective Lithium Recovery as Lithium Carbonate from Natural Brines.”

Inventors: Jinichiro Nakano, Anna Nakano, and James Bennett

Patents and Patent Applications
ID Number
Title and Abstract
Primary Lab
Application 20180222761
Embodiments relate to methods, systems And apparatus tor generating lithium from brine. The brine is heated in a first vessel to greater than C. and CO.sub.2 gas is injected mixing with the brine such that the CO.sub.2/P is greater than 18 g/atm. The brine is held at greater than 18 g/atm for longer than 20 minutes so that any impurities precipitate as solids leaving only lithium ions and chlorine ions. The brine is moved to a second vessel screening out solid precipitates leaving a brine containing only chlorine and lithium. CO.sub.2 gas is injected and mixed with the brine at C. so that the CO.sub.2/P is greater than 200 g/atm. The brine is held at greater than 200 g/atm for longer than 20 minutes suppressing the chlorine as dissolved ions while lithium precipitates out as lithium carbonate. The lithium carbonate precipitate is removed from the brine solution.
Technology Status
Development StageAvailabilityPublishedLast Updated

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