The BGS has released a report reviewing known resources of lithium, and engagement in the battery supply chain, across key African countries. Many African countries have lithium resources and the potential for lithium mines, and this report summarises available information as of July 2021. There is clear potential for Africa’s lithium resources to make an important contribution to regional economies, but this needs to be placed in the context of wider supply chains and environmental, social and governance issues.

LiFT co-Investigator, Richard Herrington, has published a Comment article in Nature Reviews Materials on ‘Mining our Green Future’. In the article he highlights the importance of mining to supply the raw materials needed for green technology, including lithium. He points out the importance of having diverse sources of these raw materials, from both mining and recycling, and notes that "we must carefully balance the need to mine with the requirement to tackle environmental and social governance issues and to deliver sustainable development goals". The BBC has followed up with an article pointing out that the move to net zero inevitably means more mining, and emphasising the importance of lithium.

The LiFT project kicked off with a virtual meeting on January 21st, 2021. The meeting was divided into two sessions, the first addressing solid-rock lithium deposits, and the second addressing brine deposits and the environmental impacts of lithium mining. Altogether, the online sessions were attended by about 50 people, including the team working on the LiFT project, project partners, advisory board members and guests.

The first session started with an introduction from Kathryn Goodenough (British Geological Survey) who is the Principal Investigator for the LiFT project, followed by an overview of the current situation in the lithium markets from Dominic Wells (Roskill). Introductions to the two solid-rock work packages in LiFT followed, with Martin Palmer (University of Southampton) summarising planned work on the sediment-hosted deposits, whilst Reimar Seltmann (Natural History Museum) and Kathryn Goodenough gave an overview of anticipated research on granites and pegmatites. Subsequently we heard from Jorge Garcia (Rio Tinto) about the Jadar deposit in Serbia, and from Peter Walker (Lepidico) about the Karibib deposit in Namibia. The session ended with a short Q&A, chaired by Richard Herrington (Natural History Museum). A key point arising from the discussion was the importance of understanding mineralogical variation in these deposits, because this variability has a major impact on mineral processing and the potential to produce battery-grade chemicals.

The second session of the meeting began with Andrew Hughes (British Geological Survey) summarising the work to be done in the brines work package of LiFT, and Karen Hudson-Edwards (University of Exeter) talking about plans to investigate environmental impact. The latter work package includes both geomicrobiological research to investigate more sustainable methods for extracting lithium, and life-cycle analysis. Rob Pell (Minviro) then spoke in more detail about applying life-cycle analysis to the lithium industry, before Scott Hynek (US Geological Survey) gave an excellent overview of ongoing research at brine- and sediment-hosted lithium deposits in the USA. The session-ending Q&A was chaired by Bryne Ngwenya (University of Edinburgh) and a key point was the concept of coupled systems – it is vital to understand not just the lithium deposits that we see today, but also the processes by which lithium is mobilised, transported and concentrated in the crust. Many of these processes will be common to all the different deposit types. Finally, Simon Moores (Benchmark Minerals) pointed out that the industry’s timescale is now very short – research needs to contribute toward the opening of new mines in a timescale of less than a decade. It’s clear that LiFT research is timely!

Scientists at the British Geological Survey (BGS) will lead a new £2.5m NERC-funded research project designed to increase our understanding of global lithium resources to support a low carbon future.

BGS news, 27/11/2020

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