ITOCHU Corporation announced today that California-based Simbol, Inc., in which ITOCHU made an investment in June 2010, has succeeded in producing lithium carbonate (with a purity in excess of 99.9%) using geothermal brine for the first time in the world. This has been achieved at Simbol’s demonstration plant located near the Salton Sea in California by selectively extracting lithium from geothermal brine provided by a geothermal power plant using its own technologies.
Approximately 70% of world lithium carbonate and other lithium chemicals production is produced through a solar evaporation process using brine from salt lakes in South America.
The unique production technology developed by Simbol uses high temperature geothermal brine, thereby limiting the emission of carbon dioxide and reducing energy costs without being affected by changes in weather conditions as it does not involve solar evaporation. There are additional developments and expansion of these geothermal power plants in this region and by applying this unique technology, Simbol will be able to expand its capacity by few folds, increasing its cost competitiveness in the market.
Simbol will continue to carry out technical experiments at its own demonstration plant and provide samples of lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide to manufacturers of cathode materials that are used for lithium-ion batteries (LiB), as well as to other potential customers for different industrial applications.
With these initiatives, Simbol plans to commence the construction of its first commercial plant (annual production capacity of 15,000 tons) by the end of the current fiscal year, and to start commercial operation in fiscal 2015.
Lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide are core raw materials for producing cathode materials, the main component of LiB, and they are also used for producing electrolyte salts necessary to form electrolyte solution in the LiB.
Moreover, they are widely used as raw materials for glass, ceramics, lubricants, and other products. Demand for these lithium chemicals is expected to grow for use in electric vehicles and other products in the future. The Global annual demand, which is currently situated at approximately 150,000 tons (lithium carbonate equivalent) is expected to exceed 250,000 tons in 2017.
ITOCHU has obtained an exclusive marketing right to distribute Simbol’s lithium products in the Asia region, including Japan, China and South Korea, and will continue to ensure stable future supply of lithium resources through the sales and marketing of lithium carbonate, lithium hydroxide and other lithium chemicals that will be produced in the United States.