Turkmenistan may become largest supplier of lithium in world markets

On December 7, in an interview to CentralAsia.news, Allaberdi Ilyasov, a scientific reviewer, famous Turkmen scientist, doctor of technical sciences,  analyzed activities in the field of extraction of such valuable mineral raw materials as lithium. The scientist stated that Turkmenistan, like some other countries of the world, has a natural, technological and human resource potential for transformation into a major producer of lithium and an exporter of this strategic product to the world market.

Lithium reserves

World lithium reserves are part of the total resources that can be extracted with existing technologies. They are estimated by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) at more than 14 million tons. Estimates of the total resources are in the range of 40-60 million tons. At the same time, 76 percent of the known world reserves fall on the brine of salt lakes. The largest of them are concentrated in South America — the so-called «South American Triangle» — the borderlands of Chile, Argentina and Bolivia.

Bolivia has salt lakes «salars» with an area of up to 10 thousand square kilometers and with a lithium content in brine from 0.02 to 0.3 percent, and in some areas up to 0.9 percent. In Chile, «salars», similar to the Salar de Atacama deposit, where streams flowing down millions of years from the surrounding mountains, evaporated over time and formed accumulations of mineral salts, are characterized by an exceptionally high average lithium content — up to 0.3 percent and a maximum of up to 2.1 percent …

Strategic properties

The global demand for lithium compounds will grow to 550 thousand tons by 2025. This will mainly happen due to the massive introduction of electric vehicles. Lithium has unique properties that are incomparable with many other metals, so it has received a wide range of applications. Copper and lithium sulfide have established themselves as one of the best semiconductors for the manufacture of thermoelectric converters.

For example, lithium fluoride has become widespread for the manufacture of lasers and optics, which are distinguished by high efficiency. Alkaline batteries, which are currently in high demand in the production of various equipment, are made of lithium hydroxide. This solution significantly extends the service life of the devices.

Alloys of lithium, cadmium, copper, scandium are used in aviation and astronautics. For the manufacture of solders, lithium alloys with gold and silver are used. In the metallurgical industry, lithium is used as an auxiliary substance in aluminum smelting. This rare earth metal contributes to an increase in the ductility and strength characteristics of various alloys. It also became widespread in the production of nuclear reactors. Here its excellent properties of high specific heat came in handy. In addition, lithium salts have healing properties, which is why they are used in the treatment of various diseases.

Solid basis of Turkmenistan

In this regard, it is expedient to establish a production that is widely consumed and in great demand on the world market for lithium compounds. In this regard, one of the most important tasks is put forward — the revaluation of the mineral resources of Turkmenistan, and in particular — the mineral resource basis of one of the strategic rare metals — lithium.

The Karabogazgol Bay plays an important role in the development of the chemical industry in Turkmenistan. The inexhaustible, renewable sources of a variety of chemical products require a solution.

Surface and buried brines of the Karabogazgol Bay are valuable mineral raw materials for the industrial production of sodium sulfate, sodium chloride, potassium sulfate, chlorine-free potassium-magnesium fertilizers, magnesium sulfate and chloride, magnesium oxide, bromine, boron, lithium compounds, strontium and many other types of products. The prospects for our own production of lithium, which is so important for the modern economy of the world, in our country may be associated with salted brines in the Garabogaz region.

However, the naturally renewable surface and buried brines of the Karabogazgol Bay are not the only ones that of interest as hydromineral raw materials. There are also industrial, underground, associated and formation waters of oil and gas fields. In connection with the intensive use of the earth’s interior in the world, the reserves of some rare elements have significantly decreased, and the demand for them has sharply increased due to the increased use of equipment and technologies in new industries.

The problem of searching for and involving in industrial development of new types of mineral raw materials has become urgent, one of which may be underground industrial waters of deep horizons of large artesian basins, foothill and intermontane depressions.

Western Turkmenistan as an research object

The possibility of widespread use of industrial waters as hydromineral raw materials has been substantiated to date by the results of studying the patterns of their distribution, regional assessment of operational reserves and predicted resources, geological exploration for underground industrial and associated waters of oil and gas fields, iodine-bromine waters, as well as analysis of the experience of exploitation of deep groundwater deposits, which are characterized by a number of specific features that determine, in turn, the methods of their study and assessment. These waters occur at considerable depths (1000 — 5000 meters) and are characterized, as a rule, by high salinity, industrial concentration of useful components, temperature and gas saturation.

In this aspect, the object of research should also be the oil and gas fields of Western Turkmenistan, such as Gogherendag, Kumdag, Uzboy and Ekizak. 

This choice is associated, firstly, with the location of these deposits in the tectonic fault zone of the earth’s crust, since there is a pattern of magmatic manifestation of associated and formation waters of oil and gas deposits, which is the reason for the presence of rare elements of industrial concentration in these waters. Secondly, the close location of the Balkanabat and Boyadag iodine plants to this deposit will also make it possible to use the waste waters of these plants as raw materials for setting up the production of lithium and its compounds from the waters of the above-mentioned deposits. 

The concentration of lithium in the composition of these waste waters is 15-20 mg/liter, which is much higher than the value of the required industrial concentration of lithium — 1 mg/liter. In addition to technogenic concentrations of lithium in the associated and formation waters of oil and gas production and waste waters of iodine plants, increased lithium content in surface and buried brines of Karabogazgol Bay, as well as wastes generated at the Karabogazsulfat Production Association, may be of particular practical interest. The corresponding raw materials, in contrast to others, are of sedimentary origin. In sedimentary salt deposits, lithium is concentrated either in brines (brine) or in the salt deposits themselves.

From batteries to smartwatches

Lithium is used in a wide variety of industries. Historically, it has been used in the production of ceramics — its additives improve product quality, heat resistance and chemical resistance. In metallurgy (ferrous and nonferrous), lithium metal and its alloys with silicon and calcium are used to remove unwanted impurities. Lubricants with the addition of lithium are in demand in the aviation and military industry, as they ensure the operation of equipment in extreme temperature conditions (from -50 to + 150 °C). 

With the rise in consumption of smartphones and wearable electronics (smartwatches, fitness trackers and sports bracelets), lithium-ion and polymer batteries have become widespread. The rapid development of electric vehicle production in the coming years could cause a sharp increase in demand for lithium, which is the main component of lithium-ion batteries. 

Today, there is a trend towards the introduction of lithium-ion batteries in the automotive industry instead of heavier and less convenient lead-acid batteries. Taking into account the projected growth in the number of electric vehicles of 50-70 million units by 2025, the segment of car batteries in the overall structure of demand for metallurgical products will increase from 30 percent to 71 percent over this period. 

The key moment for the growth of lithium consumption will be the transition to renewable energy sources and electric transport. Large mobile platforms are electric vehicles, including buses and electric trucks. It is their production that will form the main demand for lithium: a car battery needs 50 thousand times more lithium than a phone.

Its production is about 40 thousand tons annually. Of these, 40 percent of the mined metal goes to the production of batteries, 26 percent is used in the manufacture of ceramics and glass, 13 percent is used in the production of lubricants, 7 percent is used in metallurgy, 4 percent is used in the production of air conditioning systems, 3 percent are used in medicine and production of polymers. 

The growth drivers for these raw materials are provided by the production of batteries, ceramics and glass. The volume of production of ceramics and glass, according to some estimates, will increase by no more than 6-8 percent per year, therefore, the market for batteries for small, large mobile and stationary platforms remains the main one for analyzing the prospects for lithium.

Turkmenistan as a major supplier of the product to the world market

Ambitious measures to tackle climate change will generate significant demand for minerals. Solar cell, wind turbine and battery manufacturing will drive supply and demand for critical minerals for the foreseeable future.

The shift to renewables is at a record pace, and lithium is at the heart of that shift. Demand for minerals will grow at least fourfold by 2040, with particularly high growth rates for minerals used in electric vehicles. The development of the lithium industry is very similar to the beginning of the oil boom. Lithium is difficult to extract, just like oil.

Lithium shapes geopolitics like oil. Cars will drive lithium, just like oil. The sources of lithium mining were spodumene ores in Australia, brines of salt lakes with a high concentration — 500 mg per liter in South America and China. But these resources, according to analysts, will be mostly depleted in 2030–2040. 

Sources with low concentration with direct extraction of lithium are brines, for example, in the Dead Sea in Karabogazgol, geothermal waters, for example, in Turkey, France, Germany, USA. Waters following oil production, for example, in Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Russia. Turkmenistan has practically all natural, technological and human resources in order to become a major global producer of lithium and a supplier of this valuable product to the world market.

08 дек 2021, 12:45
Photo source: CentralAsia.news

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