Lithium Mining: Unearthing the Environmental Impact

Written By Jason Williams

Updated January 10, 2024

You've probably heard about lithium a lot these days…

It's the superhero of the rechargeable battery world, powering everything from your smartphone to electric vehicles.

But, like any superhero, lithium also has a darker side.

And today we're going to delve into the environmental impact of lithium mining, focusing mainly on lithium brine extraction, but we won't forget our friend spodumene.

Ready? Let's dive in!

Where Does Lithium Come From?

So where does lithium come from?

One major source is a mineral called spodumene.

Now, you might not have heard of this mineral before, but it's a major player in lithium production, particularly in Australia and North America.

Spodumene mining involves blasting, drilling, and ultimately moving massive amounts of rock.

Have you ever thought about what happens to all that displaced material? It doesn't just disappear.

Much of it, known as tailings, is left behind in large piles like these:

tailings at lithium mine

These tailings can leach toxic chemicals into the soil and water. Not only that, but the very act of mining can lead to habitat destruction and soil erosion, affecting local biodiversity.

Plus, the energy requirements for spodumene processing are significantly high.

That's because the ore has to be heated to extreme temperatures and then chemically treated to extract the lithium.

This results in higher greenhouse gas emissions, not lower ones.

But it’s probably pretty obvious to everyone that digging up tons of dirt, cooking it, and then washing it with toxic chemicals isn’t that great for the environment.

The Other 70%

So let's switch gears and talk about the other way our lithium gets from the ground to your battery: lithium brine extraction…

Imagine vast, shimmering salt flats, bathed in bright sunlight.

salt flats in Lithium Triangle

These salt flats, or salars, found predominantly in South America's "Lithium Triangle," contain large reservoirs of lithium-rich brine beneath their crust.

In fact, geologists estimate that these flats hold as much as 70% of the world’s unmined lithium.

Sounds harmless enough, right? Well, not quite.

You see, to extract lithium from these brines, massive amounts of water are pumped from beneath the salar to the surface.

There, in the intense sun, the water gradually evaporates, leaving behind concentrated lithium salts.

Now, you might be thinking, "So they're just removing water, right? What's the big deal?"

Well, here's the problem: In these arid regions, water is already a scarce resource.

And it's estimated that for each ton of lithium produced, around 500,000 gallons of water are evaporated.

drought caused by lithium extraction

This extraction process can significantly deplete local water supplies, impacting communities, agriculture, and local ecosystems.

And let's not forget about the chemical cocktail left behind…

lithium pollution

The evaporating ponds contain not only lithium, but also magnesium, calcium, sodium, and potassium.

If not carefully managed, these salts can infiltrate local water systems, causing soil contamination and affecting the delicate balance of local ecosystems.

Can You Fight Pollution With More Pollution?

It's clear that our reliance on lithium needs to be balanced with sustainable practices.

I mean, it just doesn’t make sense to fight pollution by increasing pollution.

That’s why it's important to remember that there's no such thing as a free lunch.

Even the shift toward cleaner energy comes with its own set of environmental trade-offs.

We need lithium for our batteries, but the methods we currently use to extract it from the earth can have serious environmental consequences.

It's a complex issue, no doubt about it.

But by understanding the impact of lithium mining, we can make more informed choices and push for better practices in the industry.

After all, if we want to truly embrace sustainable energy, shouldn't we also ensure that the building blocks of that energy are sustainably sourced?

Just think about it for a moment: Our electric vehicles, designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, are powered by batteries that could be causing harm to our environment in their creation.

Our phones, laptops, and smart devices all depend on lithium, which might be indirectly contributing to water scarcity, soil contamination, and habitat destruction in some parts of the world.

Does this mean we should give up on lithium? No, not necessarily.

It's a crucial element in our shift toward renewable energy. But we need to be mindful of the entire life cycle of our products — from the mines to the markets to the recycling centers.

Can We Change Our Ways?

So we've looked at the challenges of lithium mining, but what about the solutions?

Are there ways to extract lithium that are kinder to our planet?

The answer is yes, and the key might lie in an innovative technology that's all about extracting lithium right from the source, without the environmental baggage.

Imagine a process that leaves the landscape untouched, one that doesn’t require pumping vast quantities of water to the surface or leave behind huge salt piles.

Sound like science fiction? It's not!

This technology is already here, and it's a potential game-changer for the lithium mining industry.

This new approach allows us to extract lithium directly from underground brine without needing to wait for the sun to do the job.

Instead of pumping the brine to the surface and waiting for the water to evaporate, the lithium is separated on-site using specialized equipment.

This could significantly reduce the water usage and potential for soil contamination tied to traditional brine extraction.

But wait, it gets better…

Cleaner, Greener, and Leaner

This method also has the potential to be more efficient, meaning it could extract more lithium from the same amount of brine in a far shorter amount of time.

I'm talking about 99% lithium extraction versus 40% extraction and a time frame as short as six hours compared with one as long as two years…

lithium evaporation vs extraction

That sounds like a win-win situation to me — less environmental impact and more lithium for our batteries!

It’s an understatement to say that this technology holds promise, but it's still in the early stages of commercial deployment.

Now, don't get me wrong, challenges remain, including the need for further testing and refinement.

That’s why you’re not hearing much about it in the mainstream media or from the big established operations. They’re not big on change or taking risks.

It’s also why the companies (like these) pioneering it are very small — they’ve got less to lose.

But if this method is successful, it could revolutionize the lithium industry, turning it from a potential environmental villain into a more sustainable hero…

And turning these small companies that nobody’s ever heard of into the giant multi-nationals of the future.

So the outlook of lithium could be brighter and greener than we think.

With the combination of new extraction technologies, improved regulations, and consumer awareness, we can hope for a more sustainable lithium industry.

Are you ready to be a part of that future? If so, you can learn more about this new technology and the companies implementing it in this free report.

To your wealth,


Jason Williams

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After graduating Cum Laude in finance and economics, Jason designed and analyzed complex projects for the U.S. Army. He made the jump to the private sector as an investment banking analyst at Morgan Stanley, where he eventually led his own team responsible for billions of dollars in daily trading. Jason left Wall Street to found his own investment office and now shares the strategies he used and the network he built with you. Jason is the founder of Main Street Ventures, a pre-IPO investment newsletter; the founder of Future Giants, a nano cap investing service; and authors The Wealth Advisory income stock newsletter. He is also the managing editor of Wealth Daily. To learn more about Jason, click here.

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