Although it is widely distributed on earth, lithium does not naturally occur in elemental form due to its high reactivity. Actual and potential sources of lithium are from continental brines, clay mineral hectorite, pegmatites, geothermal brines and oilfield brines.
By Dave Brown - Exclusive to LithiumInvestingNews.com Lithium is considered to be approximately the 25th most abundant element sharing roughly the same abundance as lead and nickel. Although it is widely distributed on earth, lithium does not naturally occur in elemental form due to its high reactivity. Seawater contains an estimated 230 billion tons of lithium, although the concentrations are comparatively low ranging from 0.1 to 0.2 ppm. There are a fairly large number of both lithium mineral and brine deposits but relatively few of them are of actual or potential commercial value. Actual and potential sources of lithium are from continental brines, clay mineral hectorite, pegmatite, geothermal brines and oilfield brines. CONTINENTAL BRINES - these brines contain lithium derived mainly from the leaching of volcanic rocks and vary greatly in lithium content, largely as a result of the extent to which they have been subject to solar evaporation. They range from highly concentrated lithium deposits in the high altitude salars of Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Tibet and China where lithium concentrations can be very high; to mid level brines like Silver Peak, Nevada and Searles Lake, California (a former location of lithium production); to lower concentration brines like the Great Salt Lake, Utah. The lower concentration brines have modest evaporation rates and dilution is constant due to a large volume of fresh water inflow and small lithium concentrations varying between 30 to 60 ppm. The primary global source of lithium production is currently derived from Chilean and Argentinean continental brine deposits. The Salar de Atacama is the location of the world's largest lithium brine mine operated by Sociedad Quimica y Minera de Chile S.A., or SQM (NYSE: SQM). This salar is also the site of a productive lithium mine operated by Rockwood Holdings (NYSE: ROC) the parent company of Chemetall, which is a diversified manufacturer and marketer of specialty chemicals. The Salar de Hombre Muerto in Argentina is also considered a world class lithium deposit and the location of a productive mining operation by FMC Corporation (NYSE: FMC), a broadly based chemical company serving multiple market segments. The neighboring Salar de Olaroz is currently being developed by Orocobre (ASX: ORE). The Salar de Rincon is located in north-western Argentina near the Chilean border and is also the site of another world class lithium deposit. Salar de Rincon was being developed by Admiralty Resources but it has been acquired by the Sentient Group, a natural resources-focused private equity fund. As the only U.S. lithium producer, Rockwood Holdings operates a continental brine production facility in the Silver Peak, Nevada area; with American Lithium Minerals (OTC: AMLM) and Rodinia Minerals (CVE: RM) currently active among other mining companies in brine exploration in this region of southwestern Nevada. The largest deposit of lithium in the world is the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, which contains up to 50 to 70 percent of known world reserves; however, the current socialist Bolivian administration has remained unfavorable to foreign mining investment and has stated the intention to maintain the mining rights for the lithium. The Bolivian salar is also less interesting from an investment perspective because of the higher magnesium to lithium ratios, which are three times as high as those at Atacama, making it more difficult to refine the salt into lithium carbonate. Finally, the evaporation rate at Uyuni is only 40 percent of that of the Atacama rates, which would make refining more time consuming.