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Lithium Power in Argentina

As part of the School of Architecture activities for the month of the Environment, we reproduce the newspaper article published by engineering professors from our university.


The power of Lithium in Argentina

The importance of metal

* By * Various / Universidad de Mendoza

Mining, technology and automotive companies are in a race against the clock to come first with the largest production of lithium and to ensure future large-scale production of batteries, facing the revolution in renewable energy and sustainable development. This panorama puts the countries that have lithium reserves as the focus of millionaire investments. And Argentina is fortunately one of them.

Based on this, the now Engineers of the Industrial Engineering degree course from the Universidad de Mendoza prepared their final work on the Production of Lithium Carbonate from brines in the Argentine Northwest (NOA), supervised by Engineers, Teachers and Researchers Marcos Bajuk and Patricio Gonzalez Viescas of the  UM School of Engineering.

But what is lithium and what makes it essential for batteries? Lithium is the metal with the greatest electrochemical potential, a characteristic that positions it as the most attractive element for energy storage, in terms of cost and efficiency. This highly coveted metal is found in nature in several ways. Mainly in brines concentrated in underground deposits and to a lesser extent in associated granites and enriched clays.

As exposed in the work, the world's largest reserves of this element are found in the so-called "Lithium Triangle", made up of Argentina, Bolivia and Chile. In this region, the reserves are found in salt flats and brine deposits, which provides a great advantage for its exploitation since the extraction and refining of the mineral in this condition presents significantly lower costs than other sources.

Argentina ranks fourth in terms of proven reserves of the mineral, in addition to possessing very advantageous characteristics for exploitation compared to its neighboring competitors in the Lithium triangle. This creates a unique opportunity to position itself as one of the main players in this thriving market. The main reserves are in the North-West region, more precisely in the Puna, made up of the provinces of Catamarca, Jujuy and Salta, where the salt flats with the highest concentration of so-called "white gold" are located.

The internal demand for lithium carbonate in Argentina, that is, the production that remains in the country is reserved almost exclusively for the subsequent production of other derived compounds such as lithium hydroxide and lithium chloride, which later, in the same way as carbonate, are exported to the countries where lithium batteries are mainly produced. The remaining carbonate, which is not exported and is not used in subsequent refining processes, is sold in the local market, for use as additives in different industries.

A long-term opportunity

Students found that local consumption of lithium was not significant in relation to exports, but new projects are expected that demand lithium carbonate for local productions. As for the supply for the Argentine market, its availability is abundant: both current production and reserves could sufficiently satisfy current or future needs.

Most of the energy currently used in the world comes from fossil fuels. The non-renewable characteristics of these sources and their negative environmental impact place humanity in urgent need of seeking alternative and renewable energy sources that guarantee reliable, non-polluting and sustainable energy services to all the inhabitants of the planet.

According to this situation, a large increase has been generated in the consumption of electric vehicles driven by greater environmental awareness, stricter government regulations to limit the use of fossil fuels and by subsidies for the purchase of this type of vehicle of various countries, especially China and Europe.

Batteries are the key component of electric cars, since they determine the autonomy and success of this type of vehicle. Lithium-ion batteries differ from nickel-cadmium batteries in that they have a higher energy density and are much smaller. Today, they are positioned as the best solution for an electric vehicle. In addition, they are also used in computers, cell phones, tablets and a host of electrical devices. For this reason, Lithium has become a key element to replace fossil fuels, taking a leading role in the manufacture of batteries and displacing its traditional application as an additive for the glass, ceramic, pharmaceutical, and other industries.

In the coming years, batteries are expected to demand two thirds of Lithium production, with considerable growth for use in urban mobility. In addition, the next step will be large-scale storage to supply the energy needs of the population and industry, from renewable sources, as well as household batteries. It is clear that we are facing a paradigm shift in terms of environmental awareness and new energy sources are essential to continue on this path. In this way, countries such as Argentina, which have the resources to face these challenges, will be key players in the face of the new energy revolution.

* Authors: Danilo Benaroya -engineer, Franco Bernasconi -engineer, Giuliano Fornetti- engineer, Lucas Salguero-engineer.

Teachers: Mr. Patricio Gonzalez Viescas and Mr. Marcos Bajuk, both engineers-

ORIGINAL “UNO” newspaper article (CLICK HERE)

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