Posco scores points with extraction technology

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Posco scores points with extraction technology

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볼리비아 우유니 소금호수 모습. 포스코는 이 호수에서 가져온 1만5000L의 염수로 리튬의 화학적 추출에 성공했다.

Posco, Korea’s largest steelmaker, has developed a new technology to extract lithium more efficiently than has previously been possible.

The company announced yesterday that its Research Institute of Industrial Science and Technology (RIST) in Pohang, North Gyeongsang, invented the world’s first technology to extract lithium directly from salt water by triggering several chemical reactions.

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The institute used this process to isolate the silvery white metal from lithium-rich salt water, it said.

Lithium is a key material used to make high-capacity rechargeable batteries that are used to power mobile phones, laptop computers and electric cars.

Korea is the largest producer of lithium rechargeable batteries, but it imports 12,000 tons of the material a year from countries like Chile, Bolivia, Argentina and China.

The institute also said it successfully produced the first five kilograms of lithium out of 1,000 liters of salt water at a pilot plant that was built last July specifically for this project.

Posco’s new technology shortens the extraction time by 11 months.

“The new technology can produce lithium for batteries from brine within one month, compared to 12 months at present. It also raises the extraction rate from 50 percent under current methods to 80 percent,” said a researcher at RIST.

He added that Posco has applied for around 30 patents in relation to the new technology at home and abroad to prove its technological prowess and win intellectual property rights.

Luis Alberto Echazu, the Bolivian minister in charge of mining, flew to Pohang to attend a ceremony that the institute hosted yesterday to showcase the technology. Echazu vowed to cooperate with Posco on joint projects related to the new technology. Posco is also in talks with Bolivia to set up a lithium extraction plant there. Recently, the South American country has been promoting itself as a lithium-rich country with reserves of more than 5.4 million tons. It has begun developing a salt flat in Salar de Uyuni, which at 10,582 square kilometers (4,085 square miles) ranks as the world’s largest.

Lee Sang-deuk, a lawmaker and older brother of President Lee Myung-bak, attended the event along with Kim Shin-Jong, president of the Korea Resources Corporation (Kores), and Lee Joon-hyun, president of the Korea Institute of Energy Technology and Evaluation and Planning.

The development of the lithium technology is considered a shining example of the potential gains to be had from cooperation among the private and public sectors and the government. Posco and RIST capitalized on their business know-how and large workforce, while Kores offered to share its vast experience in resource development. Posco has been investing in other materials used for batteries since 2010 in order to create synergy effects with steel and material businesses.


By Song Su-hyun [ssh@joongang.co.kr]

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