Transforming Lithium Mining with Data and Insights to Enhance Productivity and Efficiency

Vineeth Ram

Chief Sustainability Officer

For today’s minerals and mining companies, the ability to grow and succeed hinges on the ability to innovate. Lithium mining is particularly challenging, as producers operate in remote and arid locations. Because mining sites are dry and difficult to access, the resource demands for design and construction as well as the cost of operations and chemicals can be astronomical. For example, mining a lake at 3,000 meters in elevation poses major hurdles for companies, particularly when materials are ready to be transported to distant locations for processing.  

Major capital investments are required for lithium mining—from purchasing equipment to extract the lithium, investing in pipelines or trucks to transport materials, building roads to and from the worksite, and much more. As operations move away from industry, electrification, and roadways, resources become exponentially more valuable and more expensive. Fresh water is at a premium in these arid environments, and chemicals become more expensive. As extraction sites become increasingly remote, lithium producers must find new ways to decrease upfront and operational costs to increase their bottom lines. 

OLI Systems, Inc. is committed to helping lithium producers face evolving industry requirements and work more efficiently, profitably, and competitively. Through OLI software, OLI Systems strives to equip customers with the relevant data, insights and software to lower production costs while dramatically improving product quality and salability. Based on a unique and powerful combination of process simulation and water chemistry insights and predictions, OLI Systems offers market-leading simulation software tools to deliver higher purity products, lower chemical requirements, and anticipate process upsets caused by fluctuating flow rates and compositions. This approach ensures actionable insights with simulation and modeling that enables more effective and efficient process design. A lithium chemistry simulation upgrade was announced recently as part of the OLI software platform V9.6, which was featured in an Alta 2018 presentation, “Aqueous chemistry of lithium production.” These new capabilities, together with unparalleled lithium and related potash chemistry currently available from OLI Systems, are empowering customers to enhance process efficiency and productivity with the most accurate, data-driven insights and predictive simulation software tools on the market. 

Conquer industry challenges and change 

Lithium is a valuable and widely-used alkali metal with implementations spanning batteries, special glasses and ceramics, heat transfer applications, lightweight metals in aircrafts, lubricants, medicines, etc. With a wide variety of uses for lithium and its compounds, the demand for this element is expected to double in the next decade. In fact, the total worldwide lithium demand increased from 234,788 metric tons in 2017 to 252,653 metric tons in 2018—and this number is projected to skyrocket, reaching 422,614 metric tons by 2025. 

To produce lithium, brine (saline groundwater) is pumped from the ground and placed into manmade ponds. The lithium is then concentrated in these ponds by evaporation. It can take a few months to a year for lithium concentrations to reach the necessary 1–2%, depending on the climate and weather in the region of the brine deposit. There are several important factors that affect the speed, cost, and yield of production:  

  • Evaporation rate: Sunlight, humidity, wind, and temperature all influence evaporation rate. If the rate is too low, lithium extraction in that particular region or deposit can be uneconomical. The higher the rate, the more profitable the lithium deposit. 
  • Lithium Grade: Grade is one of the most critical factors of a deposit. The higher the lithium grade, or concentration, the more economic the deposit.  
  • By-Products: By-products can be a very useful and lucrative result of mining. Potassium is the primary by-product of lithium, which can be sold to drive overall profits.  
  • Purity Levels: Separating impurities from lithium is one of the costliest parts of the brine refinement process. Ideally, producers look for low ratios of magnesium to lithium and sulphate to lithium. 

With all these factors to consider, lithium producers are seeking new and effective ways to optimize planning, productivity, and implementation. OLI Systems is preparing customers to dramatically enhance the operational efficiency and cost-effectiveness of lithium production. OLI Systems offers a powerful combination of data-driven tools, chemistry, and expert guidance to empower process design for extraction from brines, and to simplify and hone cost estimation and planning. Customers who utilize these solutions can significantly improve project feasibility analysis and optimize capital-intensive chemical process design and production. And with OLI Systems’ unparalleled electrolyte chemistry with heat/material balance, this solution will fuel process performance and yields with easier, more accurate high-level analysis of complex water chemistry.  

OLI Systems’ goal is to help customers minimize the cost of deployment and operations while maximizing product quality and salability—particularly optimizing the utilization of resources like fresh water, mining materials, and equipment. OLI Systems inputs enable customers to prevent overdesign and overspending as well as increase output to lessen capital expenditures (CAPEX) and operational expenditures (OPEX). 

A game-changing strength of OLI Systems is its effort to purify salts. A high concentration of salts other than lithium reside in ponds, which are precipitated out to increase the concentration of lithium. Other salts (i.e. sodium chloride, potassium chloride, magnesium chloride—the potash chemistry, and others) make up about 5–10% of the deposit. OLI Systems is driving incredible value to lithium mining by enabling producers to increase the purity of these by-products. The by-products can then be sold in the potash market, glass and ceramics market, agriculture fertilizer market, and others for additional profit. 

As the demand for lithium rises, finding and exploiting new sources is becoming more cost-competitive. By increasing topline—for example, by expanding production and augmenting product purity—and decreasing costs, companies can boost their profit margins. OLI Systems solutions and capabilities promise to optimize the CAPEX/OPEX equation in order to regulate resource consumption, produce more products and by-products, and capitalize on new sources of lithium. Whether the future of mining resides in salt lakes, minerals, or clay, OLI Systems will be there! 

Achieve more with industry-leading solutions 

Effective lithium simulations, equations, and chemistry parameter inputs are required to produce accurate predictions. OLI Systems provides two value-added products—OLI’s electrolyte thermodynamic framework (based on 47 years of research on electrolyte thermodynamics) and database (chemistry parameters for over 80 elements on the periodic table)—a combination unlike anything on the market. OLI Systems’ two-prong approach of delivering the thermodynamic framework as well as the chemistry parameters delivers the predictions companies require with both models and data to ensure highly detailed, accurate predictions. This unique capability enables customers to predict solids formation during the evaporation and lithium purification process by modeling the precipitation, purity, evaporation, and all other properties associated with processing brine into lithium. 

OLI Systems’ breakthrough software platform V9.6 is transforming lithium and potash extraction and preparing customers for the future. Advancements in lithium chemistry provide a rigorous thermodynamic foundation to enhance mining operations, in addition to helping customers perform phase equilibrium predictions for core mixtures of lithium, sodium, potassium, sulfate, and chloride to optimize lithium production. OLI Flowsheet: ESP and OLI Studio interfaces are designed expressly for water chemistry applications. This software is an ideal tool for designing and augmenting lithium extraction, providing thermodynamic predictions over a broad range of chemistry and concentrations present in lithium recovery to streamline production and maximize revenue. 

OLI Systems is positioning itself to be the #1 partner in water markets. With software designed to help lower CAPEX and OPEX and boost product value, OLI is committed to equipping lithium producers for precision field operations.  

For more information about lithium mining and how OLI Systems is uniquely positioned to help companies expand their operations, visit OLI Systems online or contact us at You can also visit us on Twitter at @OLISystems.