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Lithium Production: How the Industry Can Become More Sustainable

Lithium production is a vital component of the global push towards renewable energy. However, as demand for lithium continues to grow, so does the environmental impact of its production. Benchmark, a third-party information source, has conducted a comprehensive analysis of the sustainability of different lithium sources.

Carbon Intensity: Hard Rock vs. Brine Sources

Benchmark’s Lithium ESG Report highlights that lithium chemicals derived from hard rock sources can be over three times as carbon-intensive as those from brine sources. The report notes that processing hard rock is a much more energy-intensive process than brine, making it more carbon-intensive. The carbon intensity of the electricity grids where the raw material is mined and concentrated, and where the lithium chemical is produced, strongly impacts the overall carbon intensity of the process.

Hard rock lithium sources three times as carbon intensive as brine

Environmental Impact of Lithium Chemicals

In almost every metric, lithium chemicals from hard rock sources are more environmentally damaging than those from brine sources. Processing hard rock sources is more water-intensive than that of brines, which has negative environmental impacts. Benchmark’s life cycle assessment indicates that the production of the chemicals used in the extraction and conversion processes for both brine and hard rock sources are major contributors to many environmental metrics.

Direct Lithium Extraction (DLE): A Sustainable Alternative

Benchmark notes that although lithium chemicals from brine sources are better across the board environmentally, there are strong limitations on where such projects can be developed. Direct lithium extraction (DLE) is a new technology being developed to more efficiently extract lithium from brine sources. Benchmark’s Lithium Forecast suggests the deployment of DLE will encroach on the market share of traditional brine sources over the coming decade.

DLE sources encroaching on traditional brine by end of decade

The Importance of Transparency and Disclosure

Benchmark stresses the importance of transparency and disclosure of numbers in the industry. Their Lithium ESG Report found that only a third of all operating lithium miners and converters produce publicly available ESG reports, indicating a major lack of transparency in the industry. Life cycle assessments form a vital component of a company’s overall environmental, social, and governance reporting, and they can be carried out at a company level or be more granular and focus on individual processes.

Conclusion: Paving the Way for a Sustainable Lithium Industry

As the global push towards renewable energy continues, the demand for lithium will only increase. It is, therefore, crucial that the lithium industry becomes more sustainable. Benchmark’s Lithium ESG Report highlights the environmental impact of lithium production and provides valuable insights into the sustainability of different lithium sources. By adopting sustainable practices and increasing transparency and disclosure, the industry can mitigate its environmental impact and pave the way for a more sustainable future.

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