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Simbol Plans Commercial Lithium Extraction from Geothermal Waste

geoTSimbol Materials is building a plant with a novel lithium extraction process in a bid to provide the in-demand metal that electric car manufacturer Tesla needs for its recently announced battery plant.

The Pleasanton, Calif., company is building a commercial facility that aims to extract lithium from the waste generated by geothermal power stations, reports The New York Times. The company is due to break ground on the plant in August, putting it on track to come online around the same time as the Tesla facility.

Lithium demand grew an average of 6.4 percent a year from 2000 to 2012, largely on the back of its use in electronics, batteries for electric vehicles and other energy storage devices, and the upcoming Tesla plant – which would be the world’s largest – would likely increase that demand, the paper reports.

Lithium is usually mined from hard rock or extracted from salt water via evaporation then converted into usable form through chemical process. These techniques are time-consuming and relatively expensive, the paper reports.

Simbol’s process, which has been in operation at a pilot plant since 2011, uses brine extracted from the ground by geothermal plants as feedstock for its chemical processes, then the plant injects the brine back underground. As the brine is effectively preheated this process reduces costs and environmental footprint, the paper reports. The pilot plant has thus far extracted around 100 metric tons of lithium using this method.

Tesla’s sales in the fourth quarter of 2013 were the highest in company history by a significant margin. With almost 6,900 vehicles sold and delivered, Tesla exceeded prior guidance by about 20 percent. The company announced plans in March to open more than 30 new service centers and stores across the continent. Tesla will also continue expanding its Supercharger network, allowing Model S drivers to travel long distances across Europe for free.

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