lithium carbonate, lithium minerals, hydrometallurgy, alpha spodumene, beta spodumene
SEM image of beta-spodumen formed by calcination
calcination, ion exchange, test plant
High efficiency Dorfner caolin calciner built in 2009
further information, ANZAPLAN Services

From Lithium Minerals to Lithium Chemicals

Today, lithium chemicals are produced either from lithium bearing brines or minerals. Lithium enriched brines are mainly harvested and processed in Argentina and Chile where they are partly exploited as a by-product of potash production. Lithium minerals are mainly utilized in China. Almost 50% of spodumene produced in Australia by Talison Lithium is converted to lithium chemicals. Additional production capacity for spodumene conversion is expected.

In order to produce lithium chemicals for high tech devices from minerals, conversion to lithium carbonate or lithium hydroxide is required. Hydrometallurgical processes which may be applied to release lithium from minerals (spodumene, petalite, lepidolite, jadarite, hectorite, zinnwaldite, polylithionite or amblygonite) can be divided into the following major steps:

  1. Calcination at temperatures > 800 °C
  2. Leaching
  3. Purification
  4. Precipitation of lithium carbonate or –lithium hydroxide

In contrast to other lithium minerals, natural alpha-spodumene may be converted into beta-spodumene via calcination, offering specific leaching of lithium from the ore. Beta-spodumene may be digested in acid or base conditions. Whilst sulphate extraction is the standard treatment new developments in European projects favor base extraction technologies. Subsequent to either acid or base leaching step, technical grade chemicals are produced in ANZAPLAN’s own test center. Further hydrometallurgical purification improves quality with purities in excess of 99% lithium carbonate. Thereafter, conversion to lithium carbonate or lithium hydroxide - the base materials for most derivative lithium chemical production - is performed.

When Li bearing minerals such as zinnwaldite or polylithionite are to be used for production of lithium chemicals a decomposition step is required. For this purpose the minerals are mixed with alkali compounds, alkaline earth compounds (mainly sulfates) or mixtures thereof and are decomposed at temperatures > 800 °C. The roasted product is then ground and leached with water to bring lithium into solution. Subsequently the leaching liquor is purified and lithium is precipitated as carbonate. If necessary, purity of the precipitated lithium carbonate can be upgraded by recystallization.

Besides laboratory scale equipment, ANZAPLAN operates a local test plant for the production of samples, covering the full value chain, from the concentration of the lithium mineral to the refinement and precipitation of lithium carbonate.

Additionally ANZAPLAN offers to develop concepts for creating marketable products from side products that are gathered during physical or chemical processing. This creates additional value and minimizes waste streams.

For more information, please follow these links: 

> Pilot Plant Processing of Lithium Minerals
> Download our white paper: "Conversion of Spodumene to Lithium
   Chemicals" and "Recovery of Lithium from Mica"
> ANZAPLAN News: ANZAPLAN is technology partner for Australia’s first
   lithium carbonate plant