Visiting the lithium pilot plant in Lipi again

January 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

Compared to the first time I visited the lithium pilot plant in September 2010, constructions works have advanced a lot. Several evaporation pools are fully installed now, and according to informations of the state run Comibol firm, they are about to start the process of producing lithium carbonate soon (something like a first test run I think). 

To be out there in the salt lake and to see these big pools and completely masked workers was again a strange feeling. Indeed, it didn’t feel that much like earth but rather like being on a different planet. What I found even stranger than the last time was the fact, that the pools where filled with liquid salt brine and workers walked through it. So it was not only hot and windy and very dry as it is usually in the Salar, but now I could even listen to the waves of the pools. Felt like being in the desert but listening to the ocean. I hope some of the many pictures I took show this weird atmosphere.

Just to give a short summary of the chemical process they want to use in the Salar: under the thick crust of hard,dry salt that covers the salt lake there are several layers of “liquid salt”, called salt brine. This brine is a chemical solution that contains not only lithium, but also   magnesium, potassium and more minerals and metals. This brine is pumped into the first evaporation pool, and because of the big surface of the pool the water of the brine evaporates. What remains is another solution that is being pumped to the next pool. There, the evaporation process continues. Like this, they pump the left over solutions from pool to pool. They have to add certain chemicals, and of course this is a simple summary of the process, but the end product of the process then is lithium carbonate – an important material for the production of Li-Ion batteries.

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