Research from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) suggests that Germany can potentially bring out thousands of tons of lithium per year using geothermal power plants, as per Innovations News Network.
The concept of acquiring lithium as an environmentally adaptable and regionally available by-product of geothermal power plants is a thrilling possibility.
KIT researchers have analyzed the lithium extraction technologies and raw materials markets, finding that utilizing geothermal power plants can yield remarkable quantities of precious resources. However, certain process factors need to be handled.
Lithium supply enhancement is vital
For Europe to facilitate its shift to a carbon-neutral economy, countries will be required to obtain enough lithium to meet the increasing battery demand.
Lithium is classified as a critical resource by the European Union (EU), but there is a real risk of a lithium shortage.
“We are entirely dependent on imports. Worldwide, 80% of lithium resources come from Chile and Australia. At the same time, we deliberately accept major environmental expenses due to the conventional extraction of lithium in these countries, including negative impacts on groundwater.” Valentin Goldberg from KIT’s Institute of Applied Geosciences (AGW) said.
Alternatively, taking out lithium in geothermal power plants is planned with existing infrastructure, in which thermal water volumes with (sometimes) high lithium concentrations are extracted. After energy production, the lithium separates, and the remaining water will be refilled to the ground.
“In principle, we are very positive about this technology. Hardly any space would be needed, and environmental and transportation costs would be low.” said Goldberg.
The geothermal energy plants’ potential for lithium extraction is transparent. However, real-world applications have not been thoroughly inspected.
Benefits of using geothermal power plants for lithium extraction
The extraction volume depends on the water’s lithium concentration, location-dependent flow rate, and reservoir dimension.
To evaluate lithium potential, the team analyzed raw material markets and potential locations in Germany and checked out efficiencies of applicability, different technologies, and geothermal power production integration.
Dr. Fabian Nitschke, AGW, involved in the studies, remarked, “On this basis, we have obtained an optimistic annual production estimate of about 2,600 to 4,700 tons lithium carbonate equivalent, provided that all relevant geothermal energy plants are equipped with the necessary systems. With this, we could cover about 2-13% of the annual quantity needed for planned battery production in Germany.”
“Construction of additional geothermal power plants might increase the extraction volumes. However, it will take at least five years for a newly planned power plant to start operation. In view of the predicted global lithium shortfall and planned battery production, the situation in Germany will deteriorate soon. For this reason, lithium from geothermal power plants will do nothing but complement imported resources in the medium term.”
There are many uncertainties about utilizing geothermal power plants for lithium extraction, like the response of the reservoirs and the dimensions and origins of lithium resources in geothermal systems.
Furthermore, extraction technologies are not advanced enough currently.
“Direct comparison already reveals specific advantages and drawbacks that are of particular relevance to economically efficient lithium extraction. The need for additional resources, damage caused by deposits in boreholes and extraction units, and energy consumption directly affect economic efficiency,” explained Dr. Tobias Kluge, AGW and co-author of the study.
The researchers discussed that it is not suitable locations or technology development that would decide how lithium is pulled out in Germany but public acceptance and support.
“Our publications do not only address experts. We rather want to give decision-makers in politics and industry as well as the interested public a chance to inform themselves directly and independently about opportunities and challenges,” concludes Goldberg.