Lithium-ion Batteries Have Become an Indispensable Part of Peoples Lives

Whether it is used for grid energy storage, electric mobility tools or wearable electronic devices, lithium-ion batteries have become an indispensable part of people's lives. Every year, millions of tons of lithium are mined outside of Germany to produce lithium-ion batteries. However, according to foreign media reports, scientists at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in Germany have developed a cost-effective way to mine lithium ore in their own country. They plan to use a minimally invasive process to extract lithium from the deep water of a geothermal power plant on the upper Rhine.

There is a mineral buried deep in the rock under the gully of the upper Rhine: a large amount of lithium is dissolved in salty hot water, waiting to be mined. Dr. Jens Grimmer, a geoscientist at the KIT Institute of Applied Geosciences (AGW), said: “As far as we know, the lithium content per liter of water may be as high as 200 mg. If we can use this element, we can meet a considerable part of Germany’s Demand." At present, this scarce resource in Germany is purely imported, and it is mainly used to produce electric car batteries, so this is also very important for the German federal government's climate protection plan. Imported resources mainly come from countries such as Chile, Argentina, and Australia. The lithium production of these countries accounts for more than 80% of the world's total production.

So far, due to the lack of proper processes to mine this resource in a cost-effective, environmentally friendly and sustainable manner, lithium mining in Germany has been hampered. As a result, Grimer and Dr. Florencia Saravia of the German Institute of Natural Gas and Water Resources Technology and Science (DVGW) have developed a new process in cooperation with the KIT Engler-Bunte Institute, and is applying for a patent. Grimmer said: "The first step is to filter out the lithium ions from the hot water; the second step is to further concentrate the lithium ions until the lithium can be deposited like a salt."

Compared with the traditional method of extracting lithium from salt lakes in South America and solid rocks in Australia, Grimer-Saravia's process has several key advantages: 1. It uses the infrastructure of existing geothermal power plants, because there are as many as 2 billion per year. The hot water flows to the power plant. 2. Compared with traditional mining operations, there will be no excessive burden at all, and the land consumption is also extremely small. 3. Since hot water will return to the ground after use, it will not release any harmful substances, and geothermal power generation and heat production will not be affected. 4. In the hot water circulation of a geothermal power plant, lithium can be continuously extracted within a few hours, while it takes several months to extract lithium in the salt lakes of South America, and it will be severely affected by the weather. If there is heavy rainfall, lithium production will be delayed for weeks or even months. 5. In addition, this process can also extract other rare and valuable elements such as rubidium or cesium from hot water, which are required for laser and vacuum technology.

Since this process can use the technology and energy infrastructure of a geothermal power plant, it can also achieve a carbon dioxide balance compared with traditional processes. Florencia Saravia said: "In order to maintain and improve our living standards, we have exported many environmental issues to third countries. Using this process, we can assume our responsibilities and extract modern technology at our doorstep in an environmentally friendly way. The important raw materials needed. We can also establish a regional value chain, create employment opportunities, and reduce geopolitical dependence."

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