Types of Lithium Brine Deposits

Lithium is mined from three types of deposits: brines, pegmatites and sedimentary rocks. Here’s a look at lithium brine deposits.

As lithium demand continues to increase due to its key role in the lithium-ion batteries used to power electric vehicles, it’s important for investors interested in the mineral to look at the different types of lithium deposits around the world.

Lithium is mined from three types of deposits: brines, pegmatites and sedimentary rocks. Global lithium reserves are estimated at 21 million metric tons (MT), and continental brines and pegmatites (or hard-rock ore) are the main sources for commercial production.

A University of Michigan study published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology explains, “The feasibility of recovering lithium economically from any deposit depends on the size of the deposit, its lithium content … the content of other elements and the processes that are used to remove the lithium-bearing material from the deposit and extract lithium from it.”

Lithium from brine deposits has gained more and more interest in recent years on the back of a veritable lithium rush in Nevada. This has largely been driven by Tesla’s (NASDAQ:TSLA) lithium-ion battery gigafactory, which is just the first of many to come. Nevada is also home to Albemarle’s (NYSE:ALB) Silver Peak lithium mine, the only producing lithium brine operation in the US.

Read on for a brief look at lithium brine deposits. You can also click here to read our overview of lithium pegmatite and sedimentary deposits.

An overview of lithium brine deposits

Generally, lithium extraction from brine sources has proven more economical than production from hard-rock ore. While hard-rock lithium production once dominated the lithium market, the majority of lithium carbonate is now produced from continental brines in Latin America. This is primarily due to the lower cost of production. That said, Australia was still the world’s largest lithium producer in 2020 in terms of mine output, and most of that came from the Greenbushes hard-rock lithium operation.

There are three types of lithium brine deposits: continental, geothermal and oil field.

The most common are continental saline desert basins (also known as salt lakes, salt flats or salars). They are located in areas with geothermal activity and are made up of sand, minerals with brine and saline water with a high concentration of dissolved salts. A playa is a type of brine deposit whose surface is composed mostly of silts and clays; playas have less salt than a salar.

Lithium brine deposits represent about 66 percent of global lithium resources and are found mainly in the salt flats of Chile, Argentina, China and Tibet.

1. Lithium brine deposits: Continental

This is the most common form of lithium-containing brine. The majority of global lithium production comes from continental lithium brine deposits in what is known as the “Lithium Triangle” — a region of the Andes mountains that includes parts of Argentina, Chile and Bolivia.

The best example is the 3,000 square kilometer Salar de Atacama in Chile, which has an average lithium concentration of about 0.14 percent — the highest known — and estimated lithium resources of 6.3 million MT. Two of the world’s leading lithium producers, Sociedad Quimica y Minera (NYSE:SQM) and Albemarle, operate on the Salar de Atacama.

Livent (NYSE:LTHM), which was spun out of FMC (NYSE:FMC) in 2018, produces lithium carbonate from another world-class lithium brine deposit, Argentina’s Salar del Hombre Muerto. Orocobre (ASX:ORE,OTC Pink:OROCF) is currently ramping up production of lithium at its operations on the neighboring Salar de Olaroz. Meanwhile, Australian mining company Galaxy Resources (ASX:GXY,OTC Pink:GALXF) holds the Sal de Vida project in Northwestern Argentina.

Bolivia is home to the world’s largest deposit of lithium, the Salar de Uyuni, which reportedly contains up to 50 to 70 percent of known world reserves. However, the odds of this continental brine seeing commercial production are low for several reasons, including the fact that Bolivia is keen on keeping its natural resources under state control.

Also, the deposit has magnesium-to-lithium ratios that are three times higher than those at Atacama, making it more difficult and costly to refine salt into lithium carbonate. Finally, the evaporation rate at Uyuni is only 40 percent of that at Atacama, which means refining would be more time consuming.

Not to mention, the Salar de Uyuni is a major tourist attraction — environmental, cultural and economic concerns from locals who depend on the salt flats for tourism could result in a great deal of red tape.

2. Lithium brine deposits: Geothermal

Geothermal lithium brine deposits make up roughly 3 percent of known global lithium resources and are comprised of a hot, concentrated saline solution that has circulated through crustal rocks in areas of extremely high heat flow and become enriched with elements such as lithium, boron and potassium. Small quantities of lithium are contained in geothermal lithium brines in New Zealand, Iceland and Chile.

The Salton Sea in Southern California is the best-known example of a geothermal lithium brine deposit. Simbol Materials, a private California-based company, had plans to produce high-purity lithium carbonate from discharge brine borrowed from geothermal plants operating on the Salton Sea.

It would have used a unique reverse-osmosis process to eliminate the need for solar evaporation, making operations more timely and cost effective.

For over a year and a half, Simbol validated the process at its demonstration plant in California, and said in January 2015 that it had plans to begin construction of a large-scale plant. However, operations came to an abrupt halt when the Desert Sun reported that Simbol had fired 38 workers from its demonstration plant at the start of February 2015.

Currently working in the Salton Sea geothermal field is Controlled Thermal Resources. The company is in advanced development of the Hell’s Kitchen lithium and power project. The asset, which has an estimated 30 year life, has a total lithium resource capacity of 300,000 tonnes per year of lithium carbonate equivalent and a total resource capacity of 1,100 MW.

Aside from those activities, PurLucid Treatment Solutions has reportedly developed technology that is normally used to extract lithium from oil field brines, and has adapted it for geothermal brines. It is thought to be an environmentally friendly option.

Pan Asia Metals (ASX:PAM) is exploring for lithium in a geothermal field in Kata Thong in the south of Thailand. The exploration target is near an existing lithium project and a hydropower station.

3. Lithium brine deposits: Oil field

Lithium brine deposits can also be found in some deep oil reservoirs, accounting for 3 percent of known global lithium resources. North Dakota, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Arkansas and East Texas are home to oil field brines. The Smackover Formation on the US Gulf Coast is believed to hold an estimated 1 million MT of lithium resources at an average concentration of about 0.015 percent.

This is an updated version of an article originally published by the Investing News Network in 2016.

Don’t forget to follow us @INN_Resource for real-time news updates.

Securities Disclosure: I, Melissa Pistilli, hold no direct investment interest in any company or commodity mentioned in this article.

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Last week's top-gaining stocks on the TSX were Sierra Metals, Champion Iron, SouthGobi Resources, Verde Agritech and Forza Petroleum.

The S&P/TSX Composite Index (INDEXTSI:OSPTX) was trading at 21,198.01 by midday this past Friday (November 26). It closed the period at 21,129.53.

The index opened lower as energy stocks fell on the back of declining oil prices, which hit a two month low on the last day of the trading week.

On Friday, investors turned to safe haven assets as concerns over a new coronavirus variant increased. Gold gained, but silver fell and was on track for a weekly loss.


Last week's five TSX-listed mining stocks that saw the biggest gains are as follows:

  • Sierra Metals (TSX:SMT)
  • Champion Iron (TSX:CIA)
  • SouthGobi Resources (TSX:SGQ)
  • Verde Agritech (TSX:NPK)
  • Forza Petroleum (TSX:FORZ)

Here's a look at those companies and the factors that moved their share prices last week.

1. Sierra Metals

Sierra Metals is a growing polymetallic mining company with copper production from its Yauricocha mine in Peru and its Bolivar and Cusi mines in Mexico.

The company did not release news last week, but shares of Sierra Metals increased 8.67 percent during the period and were trading at C$1.88 by the end of the week.

2. Champion Iron

Champion Iron is an iron ore exploration and development company with several major projects in the Southern Labrador Trough, considered the largest iron ore-producing region in Canada.The company is currently developing eight iron-rich projects, including its flagship Bloom Lake asset.

Last week, Champion Iron shares increased 8.29 percent to end at C$4.05.

3. SouthGobi Resources

Integrated coal supplier SouthGobi Resources is focused on its flagship Ovoot Tolgoi mine, the closest coal mine to China, located 46 kilometers north of China-Mongolia border. The company also holds mining and exploration licences for other metallurgical and thermal coal deposits in the South Gobi province of Mongolia.

Over the five day period, shares of SouthGobi Resources increased 7.46 percent to end the week at C$0.36.

4. Verde Agritech

Verde AgriTech is developing its Cerrado Verde project, located in Brazil. The project is the source of a potassium-rich deposit from which the company intends to produce solutions for crop nutrition, crop protection, soil improvement and better sustainability.

Last Wednesday (November 24), the company announced a 169 percent rise in revenue for Q3, and revised its target for the year upward. Verde Agritech saw its share price increase 6.29 percent last week to hit C$1.86.

5. Forza Petroleum

Forza Petroleum, formerly Oryx Petroleum, is an oil exploration, development and production company. It has a 65 percent participating interest in and operates the Hawler license area in Iraq's Kurdistan region.

Last week, shares of Forza Petroleum increased 6.25 percent to trade at C$0.17 by the end of the week.

Data for 5 Top Weekly TSX Stocks articles is retrieved each Friday at 11:00 a.m. EST using TradingView's stock screener. Only companies with market capitalizations greater than C$50 million prior to the week's gains are included. Companies within the non-energy minerals and energy minerals are considered.

Don't forget to follow us @INN_Resource for real-time updates!

Securities Disclosure: I, Priscila Barrera, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.

Editorial Disclosure: Energy Fuels is a client of the Investing News Network. This artice is not paid-for content.

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Last week's top-gaining mining stocks on the TSXV were Adex Mining, Butte Energy, Noble Mineral Exploration, AurCrest Gold and International Iconic Gold.

The S&P/TSX Venture Composite Index (INDEXTSI:JX) ended last week on the decline, shedding 27 points shortly after the morning bell on Friday (November 26). It closed at 942.62.

Global markets were plunged into uncertainty as news that a recently discovered COVID-19 variant known as omicron may be more contagious and potentially vaccine resistant.

Several European and Asian nations scrambled during the last full week of November to implement border and flight restrictions in an effort to curb the spread of the variant, which was first detected in South Africa.


Concern that the new mutation could hinder economic recovery weighed heavily on North American markets, with most of the leading indexes slipping lower Friday morning. The energy sector bore the brunt of the declines, with West Texas crude oil dropping 9 percent and Brent crude losing 8 percent.

Gold also faced headwinds from the uncertainty. It fell below US$1,800 per ounce on Tuesday (November 23), and remained under pressure throughout the week, only briefly rallying above US$1,800 early on Friday.

Last week's five TSXV-listed mining stocks that saw the biggest gains are as follows:

Here's a look at what may have moved their share prices during the period.

1. Adex Mining

Explorer Adex Mining is developing the Mount Pleasant mine property in New Brunswick. The site houses two distinct deposits: the Fire Tower zone, which hosts a significant molybdenum and tungsten resource, and the North zone, which contains the world's largest indium reserve and one of North America's largest tin resources.

Adex filed a number of documents on SEDAR last week, including its latest management's discussion and analysis document. Company shares rose 50 percent for the last full week of November, ending the session at C$0.02.

2. Butte Energy

Butte Energy was previously engaged in the acquisition, exploration and development of petroleum and natural gas reserves in Western Canada. The company sold its last remaining asset in 2017 and currently has no active operations other than the completion of reclamation activities on previously abandoned wells.

Late last year, Butte brought on a new board and management team that is actively evaluating potential opportunities, including those outside of the oil and gas industry.

Last Tuesday (November 23), the firm released its interim financial statement and management overview.

"In order to fund future operations or acquisitions, the company will need to raise additional funds by way of equity or debt. There is no assurance that the company will be able to raise such funds on terms acceptable to it," the overview reads. "These factors indicate the existence of a material uncertainty that may cast significant doubt about the Company's ability to continue as a going concern."

Shares of Butte rose 36.75 percent last week, ending the session at C$0.20.

3. Noble Mineral Exploration

Noble Mineral Exploration has holdings in Canada Nickel Company (TSXV:CNC,OTCQX:CNIKF), Spruce Ridge Resources (TSXV:SHL,OTC Pink:SRCGF) and MacDonald Mines Exploration (TSXV:BMK,OTC Pink:MCDMF).

Additionally, the diversified explorer has an interest in the Holdsworth gold exploration property near Wawa, Ontario. The property is comprised of approximately 72,000 hectares of mineral rights in the Timmins-Cochrane areas of Northern Ontario known as Project 81. According to Noble, Project 81 hosts diversified drill-ready gold, nickel-cobalt and base metals exploration targets at various stages of exploration.

Last week, the company entered into a letter of intent (LOI) with Canada Nickel Company to option mining claims in the Mann, Hanna, Duff and Reaume townships. The deal will also see Noble sell its MRO patents in Kingsmill and Mabee townships to the nickel-focused company.

"We are extremely pleased to be able to invite Canada Nickel, with their expertise, to secure this very large land package as it represents a 20km strike length where evidence of nickel, cobalt, PGM's, rhodium and rare earth minerals have been found to be present in work carried out by past explorers," said Vance White, president and CEO of Noble. The LOI news sent shares of Noble 22.83 percent higher, ending the trading week at C$0.13.

4. AurCrest Gold

AurCrest Gold is a mineral exploration company focused on the acquisition, exploration and development of gold properties. Presently, the gold-centered firm has a portfolio of assets in Ontario, including the Richardson Lake, Ranger Lake and Bridget Lake gold projects.

In mid-November, the explorer released results from a spring/summer program at its 100 percent owned Ranger Lake property. The program consisted of nine drill holes designed to test one of three high-priority targets.

"Eight drill holes encountered sulphide veins and stringer zones over 1-7 metre intervals hosted in a metasedimentary sequence," the report reads. "Veins and host rocks are sheared and folded, and display characteristics consistent with stages of post-mineralization deformation and partial melting, the latter inferred by quartz-alkali feldspar leucosomal bands."

AurCrest shares added 22.46 percent last week to trade for C$0.35.

5. International Iconic Gold

Exploration company International Iconic Gold is focused on developing its wholly owned San Roque gold project, located in the Rio Negro province of Northeastern Patagonia, Argentina.

According to the company, a gold, silver and base metals resource assessment released in July 2019 shows an inferred mineral resource of 32.9 million tonnes grading 1.42 grams per tonne gold equivalent (AuEq) for 1,499,900 AuEq ounces at a cut-off grade of 0.6 grams per tonne AuEq.

Last Wednesday (November 24), the firm increased its ownership to 100 percent in Minas San Roque (MSR), which owns the legal title to the mining claims comprising Iconic Gold's flagship San Roque property.

"MSR's ownership of the deposit and the prospective geology around it are protected by a system of mine rights. Three federal government mining concessions, known as 'Minas,' totaling 94.5 square kilometers (sq. km) have been granted to MSR," the late November press release states. "In addition, MSR controls eleven temporary mineral exploration licenses, known as 'Cateos,' covering 645 sq. km around the Minas."

By Friday, shares of Iconic Gold had climbed 20.77 percent to close at C$0.14.

Data for 5 Top Weekly TSXV Stocks articles is retrieved each Friday at 11:00 a.m. EST using TradingView's stock screener. Only companies with market capitalizations greater than C$10 million prior to the week's gains are included. Companies within the non-energy minerals and energy minerals are considered.

Don't forget to follow us @INN_Resource for real-time updates!

Securities Disclosure: I, Georgia Williams, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.

Editorial Disclosure: Canada Nickel Company, MacDonald Mines Exploration, Noble Mineral Exploration and Spruce Ridge Resources are clients of the Investing News Network. This article is not paid-for content.

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