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Assessing the sustainability of lithium brine extraction in high Andean salars

Project Description

Lithium brines, found in high Andean salars, are an important source of lithium essential for decarbonisation technologies. In recent years, the market for lithium – ion batteries (LIBs) has been growing rapidly. Future projections suggest high demand for lithium to use in electric vehicles and energy storage applications, which will require significant upscaling of lithium mining operations. Lithium brine resources, in the lithium triangle countries (Argentina, Bolivia, Chile), are significant and comprise over 50% of the global lithium resources. However upscaling of production capacity in a responsible and sustainable manner to provide the ‘wanted’ lithium in the next 10 years or so is challenging. One of these challenges is environmental sustainability, which cannot be determined easily.

Given the lack of data for high Andean salars, sustainability indicators could prove a useful way of determining whether adverse impacts are occurring. Building on existing techniques for such indicators, such as DRASTIC and others for saline Intrusion , this PhD would develop sustainability indicators, which are based on systemic understanding of the mass transport of brine from the basin to the salar. Readily available data, such as topography, rainfall, groundwater head, brine distribution will be used in their development.

Funding Notes

CENTA studentships are for 3.5 years and are funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). In addition to the full payment of their tuition fees, successful candidates will receive the following financial support.
• Annual stipend, set at £15,009 for 2019/20
• Research training support grant (RTSG) of £8,000


Flexer, V., Baspineiro, C.F., Galli, C.I. (2018). Lithium recovery from brines: A vital raw material for green energies with a potential environmental impact in its mining and processing. Science of the Total Environment. 639, 15: 1188-1204.
Houston, J., Butcher, A., Ehre, P., Evans, K. Godfrey, L. (2011). The evaluation of brine prospects and the requirement for modifications to filing standards. Economic Geology. 106 (7): 1225-1239.
Marazuela, M. A., Vázquez-Suñé, E., Ayora, C., García-Gil, A., & Palma, T. (2019). Hydrodynamics of salt flat basins: The Salar de Atacama example. Science of The Total Environment, 651, 668-683.
Munk, L.A., Hynek, S. Bradley, D.C., Baut, D., Labay, K.A., Jochens, H. (2016). Lithium brines: A global perspective. Chapter 14. USGS. [].

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