EuGeLi: Lithium extraction from geothermal brines in Europe
Diagram of the process for extracting lithium from geothermal brines.
Challenges and needs
EuGeLi is a European project funded by the Raw Materials department of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT Raw Materials).
In the context of energy transition and the digital transformation, lithium is attracting considerable interest, with the electric car boom driving demand globally while the main suppliers of the metal today are Latin America, Australia and China.
In this context, there is a need to establish a European industry for producing lithium from unconventional sources. This is the focus of the EuGeLi project coordinated by French group ERAMET in collaboration with eight other partners from France, Germany and Belgium. The project began in January 2019 and will last until December 2021 (three years).
The Soultz-sous-Forêts site in Bas-Rhin, France.
© BRGM - Albert Genter
The purpose of the EuGeLi project, which stands for European Geothermal Lithium Brines, is to set up a European industry for producing high-quality, battery-grade lithium from the geothermal brines that occur beneath the Franco-German border. The region is an important reservoir for such brines, which are currently being exploited for power and heat generation. The brines are mostly enriched in lithium because of subsurface water-rock interactions. They are an untapped lithium resource in Europe, which could be usefully exploited.
ERAMET and IFPEN have developed an innovative process for extracting lithium from geothermal brines. This process uses extraction columns filled with an adsorbent which removes only the lithium from the brine. The project’s objective is to extract lithium from subsurface water and to inject it back below the ground while also making use of the geothermal potential.
The EuGeLi project’s outcomes will be:
- First, to create a European, sustainable and long-term lithium supply and boost the development of end-use applications, such as in lithium batteries (a high-growth market) and the ceramics sector.
- Second, to significantly reduce the environmental footprint of industrial lithium production units thanks to this alternative process.
- Lastly, to substantially increase lithium recovery efficiency compared to the conventional process.
BRGM’s role as part of the EuGeLi project is specifically:
- To produce an inventory of the resource, including a database and geostatistical analyses and maps of geothermal brines in Europe. This inventory will help better understand what causes lithium enrichment and will compile data for approximately one hundred brine samples with a lithium concentration above 90 mg/L, incorporating about 100 parameters, including temperature, flow rate and composition: major or trace elements or their isotopes.
- The geochemical modelling of the process and identification of key control parameters using laboratory and in situ testing.
- Monitoring of on-site pilot trials by chemical/isotopic analyses.
- ERAMET (Coordinator)
- ÉS - Electricity de Strasbourg
- IFP Energies Nouvelles
- Chimie Paris Tech.
- VUB – Vrije Universiteit Brussel