Written by Anamaria Correal
Researchers from Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in cooperation with the Centro de Excelencia en Geotermia de Los Andes (CEGA) and industrial partners, launched the BrineMine project to support sustainable development by combining geothermal and green mining in Chile.
Northern Chile is one of the driest places in the world but simultaneously has extensive geothermal potential. It is acknowledged that highly mineralized thermal waters have substances such as lithium, rubidium and antimony, which are significant for energy technology and the high-tech sector and have been depicted as critical raw materials.
The focus of this German-Chilean 3-year research project is to develop strategies for raw material extraction as well as water extraction from geothermal springs with the help of membrane technology. Professor Thomas Kohl from KIT’s Institute of Applied Geosciences (AGW) stated that:
¨With a novel type of plant, it is not only possible to generate electricity in a climate-friendly way, but also to extract drinking water and even mineral resources at the same time.¨
Currently, a data survey is being carried out by BrineMine to establish the potential of the raw materials with an emphasis on the thermal fields of the Atacama Desert, which its salt lakes have been described as an important source for lithium. Moreover, the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE) is developing the plant technology for future industrial use.
Dr Joachim Koschikowski from ISE pointed out that:
“We have already set up a demonstration plant in a geothermal power plant in the Upper Rhine Graben and successfully integrated key components into ongoing power plant operations.”
The membrane processes speed up the concentration of the waters in contrast to the conventional evaporation process. Moreover, the plant technology is based on a novel process chain: ¨First, heat from the geothermal brine is used for energy recovery. The cooled liquid, which has a relatively low concentration, is then pre-concentrated by reverse osmosis; at the same time, drinking water is obtained.¨
While many of the process steps are based on proven methods, they have never been combined in this particular way. With this in mind, prior to the installation of the initial plants in Chile further research of the process needs to be carried out.
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