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Feasibility of lithium recovery from geothermal brines in the Netherlands

Witteveen&Bos on behalf of EBN. Authors: S. Koomen MSc, Dr.ir. J.C. van ‘t Spijker, Ing. M.J. Kooi, R. Salam

The EU Critical Raw Materials Act is intended to ensure a safe and sustainable supply of essential raw materials within the EU. One of these critical materials is lithium, a crucial raw material that is needed for battery production. Lithium is mainly imported by EU member states from countries like Chile and Australia. To reduce geopolitical dependence on these imports and to meet increasing demand, the EU is exploring alternative sources of lithium within its own borders. A potential source of lithium is the production water from geothermal projects. This water originates from aquifers (reservoirs) at depths of 500 meters or more.

A number of geothermal wells in Europe contain significant amounts of lithium, and the technology to extract lithium from water is developing at a fast pace. The extraction of lithium from geothermal water could potentially also improve the business case of geothermal projects. In this context, a parliamentary question was asked in 2022 to assess the feasibility of extracting lithium from geothermal water in the Netherlands. This report describes the different technologies and evaluates the current technical and economic feasibility for this application in the Netherlands. This research was carried out with the support of a project team consisting of EBN, Ennatuurlijk, Shell and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate.

It can be concluded that – with techniques that are currently available – lithium extraction from water from the operational geothermal installations in the Netherlands is currently (in 2023) economically challenging. The costs for the upstream process alone equal the market selling price. When the downstream process is also added, there is a good chance that the cost price for production will even be higher than the market price. The quality of Dutch geothermal water also means that Dutch geothermal reservoirs are less suitable for extracting lithium than in (nearby) foreign projects.