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USA News Group - Researchers at the US Department of Energy's (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) have proposed a new process involving lithium, that could make a huge impact on future energy production. The idea is to have liquid lithium assist in controlling the extreme excess heat created in the process of nuclear fusion, such as what's being constructed at ITER, the world's largest nuclear fusion project, that's scheduled to go online in 2025. Analysts already predicted the world's lithium supply will triple by 2025, but also asked whether that supply would be enough. By introducing another breakthrough use of lithium, demand could significantly increase, putting more pressure on the industry's developers and producers to deliver, such as Lithium South Development Corporation, Piedmont Lithium Limited, Lithium Americas Corp., American Lithium Corp., and E3 Metals Corp.
Said to be one of the most complicated engineering projects in human history, the biggest catch for fusion energy so far has been that the process reactions generate very hot. As per the DOE proposal, liquid lithium could be used to keep the full force of the extreme heat from hitting the reactor's divertor, and radiate away much of the unwanted excess energy.
But before that lithium gets utilized for fusion, buyers of the metal will be in fierce competition for supply—as shortages are already on the horizon, thanks to accelerated sales of electric cars, which again are expected to explode by 2025.
As technological advances involving the consumption of lithium have gathered headlines, so too has interested piqued in the field of its production.
Located within the heart of what's known as the Lithium Triangle in South America (spanning Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile), Lithium South Development Corporation (TSX.V:LIS) (OTCQB: LISMF) is embarking on a project to prove the feasibility of a new way of producing lithium called Direct Lithium Extraction (DLE).
Together with partners Chengdu Chemphys Chemical Industry Co. and their parent company Sino Lithium Materials Pty. Ltd., Lithium South's efforts on its Hombre Muerto North Lithium Project (HMN Project) are set to draw the attention of many around the world who believe a faster, greener, more efficient method of lithium extraction is possible.
Located in Salta and Catamarca Provinces, Argentina, the HMN project comes supplied with a suitable runway for testing the capabilities of DLE. A previously calculated NI 43-101 resource estimate on the property projected a Measured and Indicated Resource of 571,000 tonnes LCE with >750 mg/L Li, and a low Mg/Li ratio, and over 1.6 million tonnes of potash (KCI) equivalent.
The HMN Project's property is adjacent to land under development by Korean multinational corporation POSCO, which acquired its ground from Galaxy Resources for US$280 million.
The theory surrounding DLE gains much of its excitement from its potential ability to significantly increase a production site's speed, recoveries, and supply security. Instead of requiring several months to years to produce lithium from solar evaporation, it's believed that DLE could potentially bring production time down to mere hours.
Sino Lithium is developing the proprietary DLE process which is currently under development. The on-site environmental footprint is projected to be significantly smaller than current industry methods which require the construction of large evaporation ponds.
Work to date by an 11-member technical team has been conducted at Chemphys's production and technology centre outside Chengdu, China, which is an ISO 9000 and ISO 14001 certified facility. To validate test work completed to date by Sino Li and Chemphys, Hains Technology Associates of Toronto, Ont., Canada, has been retained to provide a technical review and qualified person validation. Check sampling has been completed and results are currently under review.
Within a previously conducted Preliminary Economic Assessment utilizing traditional evaporation methods, the HMN Project was projected to only cost US$98 million in capex. As per the terms of their partnership agreement, Chemphys has a 100% off-take agreement in place for the HMN, while SinoLithium has agreed to fully fund the DLE laboratory and pilot testing programs under QP supervision, and 30% of the cost of the Feasibility Study.
Another DLE project that's being given attention is that of E3 Metals Corp. (TSXV:ETMC) (OTC:EEMF), which opened its own DLE development and testing facility in Calgary, Canada.
The new facility is set to be the site of the company's continued progression towards commercialization of their technology. This includes the scale-up and lab prototype campaign in preparation for the field pilot plant.
Unlike the more traditional grounds for lithium extraction, however, E3 plans to selectively extract lithium directly from oilfield brine sourced from the Leduc Reservoir within the company's resource area.