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Tesla’s lithium extraction patent catches miners’ attention

Elon Musk. (Image by Daniel Oberhaus, Flickr).

Information obtained by Electrek revealed that Tesla filed a new patent related to the acid-free saline lithium extraction process mentioned by Elon Musk during Battery Day in September 2020.

Titled “Selective extraction of lithium from clay minerals,” the patent states that extracting lithium from ore using sodium chloride is an environmentally friendlier way to obtain the metal, compared to currently used techniques such as acid leaching. According to Tesla, it also allows for higher recoveries.  

In detail, the process allows for extracting lithium from clay mineral and compositions by mixing a cation source with the clay mineral, performing a high-energy mill of the clay mineral, and performing a liquid leach to obtain a lithium-rich leach solution.

Following the release of this information, Canadian miner Spearmint Resources (CSE: SPMT) reminded Musk that not far away from his Gigafactory 1 in Nevada, the Clayton Valley lithium-clay project is being developed with the goal of supplying the local market.

The patent states that extracting lithium from ore using sodium chloride is an environmentally friendlier way to obtain the metal, compared to currently used techniques

In a press release, Spearmint emphasized that it has already received the technical report for the project, which includes a maiden resource estimate of 815,000 indicated tonnes and 191,000 inferred tonnes for a total of 1,006,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE). 

According to Spearmint, its field team has only drilled a small number of holes to date to achieve this maiden resource and, thus, anticipates that additional targeted drilling could increase this initial calculation. 

In terms of costs, recoveries and revenue, the miner estimated that to derive a base case cut-off grade for eventual lithium carbonate (Li2CO3) product, mining costs would be $2/tonne, processing costs would be $15/tonne, processing recovery would be 80% and revenue would be $10,000/tonne for Li2CO3 product.

Right next to Speamint’s property, fellow Canadian Cypress Development (TSX-V: CYP) is developing its Clayton Valley lithium project which, according to the company, hosts a world-class resource of lithium-bearing claystone adjacent to a brine field to the east and south of Angel Island, an outcrop of Paleozoic carbonates protruding up through the lakebed sediments. 

Pit-constrained resources at the project include 929.6 million measured and indicated tonnes grading 1,062 parts per million lithium. Inferred resources add 100.4 million tonnes at 986 ppm lithium. 

Immediately west of Cypress’ asset sits the Silver Peak mine, owned by Albemarle (NYSE: ALB) — the world’s no. 1 lithium producer — and which is North America’s only lithium brine operation, continuously active since 1966.