Looking for the lithium jackpot in South Australia

Much of the world is hunting for lithium – a crucial part of the energy transition.

South Australia has resources of lithium – but whether it’s possible to extract still needs to be determined.

As of 2017, Australia was the world’s largest producer of lithium. But most of the known reserves of lithium are in Western Australia.

A joint project by the Geological Survey of South Australia (GSSA) and the University of Adelaide is evaluating South Australia’s lithium mineral potential.

The university’s Dr Jarred Lloyd gave a presentation on the project at the GSSA’s 2023 Discovery Day conference, attended by mining companies and geologists from around the country, which looked at the future of minerals and petroleum resources in South Australia.

Lithium occurs in three general categories: brines in salt lakes, a mineral called pegmatite, and clays.

While South Australia has salt lakes that have some of the key features for containing lithium, they don’t meet all of the requirements. “It’s likely that they have some potential, but probably pretty low in terms of extraction,” Lloyd said at the conference, citing research from Geoscience Australia.

Pegmatite is the major source of lithium in WA, and the focus of the GSSA’s project for South Australia.

It can have variable levels of lithium, depending on how it formed – for instance, Lloyd pointed out pegamatites in the Olary region of South Australia that have been mined for beryl. Beryl is a primary source of the metal beryllium, useful in electronics, aerospace and nuclear power plants, but these pegmatites are probably lithium-poor.

Lithium Australia identified at the Dudley prospect on Kangaroo Island, some lithium and tantalum pegmatite dykes, but the company is under new management which hasn’t pursued the prospect.

“There certainly is lithium around – whether it’s extractable is another question,” said Lloyd.

Lloyd is also working on advanced ways to figure out the age of rocks with radiometric dating, which should assist in learning more about these pegmatites.

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