Lithium is not considered to be rare. It can be found in all continents. The principal raw material sources are either ores, i.e. pegmatites (e.g. the Li-Al-Si containing spodumene) or salt lake brines.
The world map below gives an overview of the global resources. Recent estimates show that the lithium resources known exceed 40 million tons of Li, corresponding to more than 210 million tons of lithium carbonate equivalents.
Resources and Production Process
Albemarle operates two world-class raw material resources based on brine. One is located in the Salar de Atacama (Chile), and the other one in Clayton Valley near Silver Peak, Nevada (USA).
The company also holds a 49% share in the spodumene mine of Talison Lithium in Australia. In addition, Albemarle owns a spodumene mine in Kings Mountain, NC, USA which is not in operation today.
With these resources Albemarle has a superior position in terms of backward integration as well as security of supply.
Worldwide Lithium Resources [tons/Li]
U.S. Geological Survey, Mineral Commodity Summaries, February 2014
The lithium-containing brine is pumped out of the Salar into evaporation ponds, concentrated, and then purified on its way through the system.
The brine is pumped through a cascade of ponds where impurities or by-products are crystallized and removed. Main by-products are potash for the fertilizer industry and bischofite used for road paving.
During the evaporation process, the lithium concentration is increased from about 2000 p.p.m. to up to 6% in the final brine.
The final brine is transported to Albemarle's Antofagasta plant for further purification and processing to yield lithium carbonate and lithium chloride.