South Korea aims to produce lithium from seawater

January 20, 2011 (Source: Reuters) — South Korea aims to extract lithium from seawater as demand climbs for the rare metal used to power products ranging from mobile phones to electric cars, a government-funded research institute said on Thursday.

“We will finish building a research facility and offshore plant in the first half of this year and could start extracting lithium from next year,” said Choi Byung-gwan, spokesman at the Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources (KIGAM).

Asia’s fourth-largest economy aims to double its combined self-sufficiency rate for “new strategic materials” such as rare earth and lithium to 10 percent in 2011 from 5.5 percent in 2010.

The South Korean research institute has developed technology to draw lithium from sea water, the first to do so after Japan.

KIGAM had passed its know-how on to steelmaker POSCO to commercialise. The groups would jointly establish an offshore plant and production line to extract 30 tonnes of lithium annually by 2014 and mass produce by as early as 2015, Choi added.

Lithium is a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and other electronic devices such as mobile phones.