- Construction to start on a plant with an annual production capacity of 200 tons with POSCO`s own technology, due to commence operations at the end of December
- `The world`s utmost economic feasibility` with the shortest extraction time of 8 hours and a recovery of 80%
POSCO is building a large demo plant in South America as the prelude to the entry in the global market of the world`s first lithium extraction technology it developed.
POSCO held an event on August 1 at the Pohang Plant of POSCO PLANTEC to celebrate the transfer of a massive demo plant facility.
The event was attended by Seung-deok Choi, head of the New Business Investment & Technology Planning Department; Geun-ho Park, Executive Vice President of POSCO PLANTEC; Dae-beom Park, Senior Vice President; Jong-min Park, Senior Vice President of RIST; Geun-soo Go, CEO of EG Potec; and Byung-moo Kim, Vice President of Hanyoung. All attendees gathered together to celebrate the full-scale entry of POSCO`s lithium technology in the global market.
The facility, which features POSCO`s pioneering lithium extraction technology, will sail for 5 weeks to a port in Chile, after which it will travel by land for a week through the Andes Mountains, finally arriving at the Cauchari salt lake located in Jujuy, northwest of Argentina.
Once the massive 200-ton lithium carbonate demo plant is completed at the end of November, it will commence normal operation by the end of December, thereby rounding off the final-stage test of the direct lithium extraction technology.
POSCO was the first in the world to develop the high efficiency extraction technology of lithium brine back in 2010, and operated the first 2-ton pilot plant in 2011. The company succeeded in demonstrating lithium extraction in 2013 after building the lithium carbonate pilot plant with an annual capacity of 20 tons in Chile.
The plant facility will be built in the Cauchari, situated amid hills that climb 4,000 meters above sea level. The mineral rights are owned by Lithium Americas Corp (LAC), a Canadian lithium and salt lake developer, and POSCO has reached an agreement with LAC to build its demo plant in the salt lake. According to this agreement, LAC will provide the rights to use the Cauchari brine, infrastructures and relevant licensing, while POSCO will build and operate independent facilities.
Differing from lithium extraction based on natural evaporation that can take 12 to 18 months on average, POSCO uses chemical reactions capable of producing high purity lithium in as little as 8 hours to as long as 1 month. The recovery rate of lithium has also increased from 20% to 80%, which proves its outstanding economic feasibility.
Lithium is currently used as the main material for secondary cells, as well as featuring in cell phones, laptops and electric car batteries. Tesla, an American electric car company, invested $5 billion in building a secondary cell plant in February and announced its goal to produce 500,000 electric cars a year. The expanding market for electric cars will lead to an upsurge in battery demand, which will result in the rapid growth of the market for lithium, the main material for batteries.
Even though Korea is the world`s top producer of secondary cells, it is wholly dependent on imports for lithium, a key material used in many industrial applications. In fact, lithium resources worldwide are concentrated in South America, particularly in Chile, Argentina and Bolivia, and the entry barrier is extremely high for newcomers due to the restrictive policies implemented by governments in this region regarding brine development, not to mention technical limitations. Considering the entry barrier of the lithium market, POSCO`s lithium extraction technology, which is to be applied to mass production for the first time in the world, is expected to elicit considerable investor interest, given the difficulties faced in business progress due to technical limitations.
CEO Oh-joon Kwon has demonstrated a steely ambition since inauguration to secure an unchallenged position in the global market by continuously developing the lithium business as one of the company`s new growth engines.
POSCO has applied for 44 domestic and 76 international patents related to lithium extraction.
- The massive demo plant facility, which applied the world`s first lithium extraction technology developed by POSCO, is departing for Cauchari, Argentina from the Pohang Plant of POSCO PLANTEC on August 1.