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Title: Technologies for Extracting Valuable Metals and Compounds from Geothermal Fluids

Executive Summary Simbol Materials studied various methods of extracting valuable minerals from geothermal brines in the Imperial Valley of California, focusing on the extraction of lithium, manganese, zinc and potassium. New methods were explored for managing the potential impact of silica fouling on mineral extraction equipment, and for converting silica management by-products into commercial products.` Studies at the laboratory and bench scale focused on manganese, zinc and potassium extraction and the conversion of silica management by-products into valuable commercial products. The processes for extracting lithium and producing lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide products were developed at the laboratory scale and scaled up to pilot-scale. Several sorbents designed to extract lithium as lithium chloride from geothermal brine were developed at the laboratory scale and subsequently scaled-up for testing in the lithium extraction pilot plant. Lithium The results of the lithium studies generated the confidence for Simbol to scale its process to commercial operation. The key steps of the process were demonstrated during its development at pilot scale: 1. Silica management. 2. Lithium extraction. 3. Purification. 4. Concentration. 5. Conversion into lithium hydroxide and lithium carbonate products. Results show that greater than 95% of the lithium can be extracted from geothermal brinemore » as lithium chloride, and that the chemical yield in converting lithium chloride to lithium hydroxide and lithium carbonate products is greater than 90%. The product purity produced from the process is consistent with battery grade lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide. Manganese and zinc Processes for the extraction of zinc and manganese from geothermal brine were developed. It was shown that they could be converted into zinc metal and electrolytic manganese dioxide after purification. These processes were evaluated for their economic potential, and at the present time Simbol Materials is evaluating other products with greater commercial value. Potassium Silicotitanates, zeolites and other sorbents were evaluated as potential reagents for the extraction of potassium from geothermal brines and production of potassium chloride (potash). It was found that zeolites were effective at removing potassium but the capacity of the zeolites and the form that the potassium is in does not have economic potential. Iron-silica by-product The conversion of iron-silica by-product produced during silica management operations into more valuable materials was studied at the laboratory scale. Results indicate that it is technically feasible to convert the iron-silica by-product into ferric chloride and ferric sulfate solutions which are precursors to a ferric phosphate product. However, additional work to purify the solutions is required to determine the commercial viability of this process. Conclusion Simbol Materials is in the process of designing its first commercial plant based on the technology developed to the pilot scale during this project. The investment in the commercial plant is hundreds of millions of dollars, and construction of the commercial plant will generate hundreds of jobs. Plant construction will be completed in 2016 and the first lithium products will be shipped in 2017. The plant will have a lithium carbonate equivalent production capacity of 15,000 tonnes per year. The gross revenues from the project are expected to be approximately $ 80 to 100 million annually. During this development program Simbol grew from a company of about 10 people to over 60 people today. Simbol is expected to employ more than 100 people once the plant is constructed. Simbol Materials’ business is scalable in the Imperial Valley region because there are eleven geothermal power plants already in operation, which allows Simbol to expand its business from one plant to multiple plants. Additionally, the scope of the resource is vast in terms of potential products such as lithium, manganese and zinc and potentially potassium.« less
  1. SIMBOL Materials
Publication Date:
OSTI Identifier:
Report Number(s):
DOE Contract Number:
Resource Type:
Technical Report
Research Org:
Simbol Materials
Sponsoring Org:
USDOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), Geothermal Technologies Office (EE-4G)
Contributing Orgs:
Simbol Materials, Argonne National Laboratory, California State University Sacramento
Country of Publication:
United States
15 GEOTHERMAL ENERGY lithium, manganese, zinc, potassium, cesium, rubidium, geothermal energy, brine, extraction, lithium carbonate, lithium chloride, lithium hydroxide.