Geosynthetics June/July 2022 - 13

PVC geomembranes
for South American
lithium mining
The authors evaluate the importance of using standardized
specifications for PVC geomembranes at the salares of Bolivia,
Argentina and Chile.
By Myriam Astrid Acevedo Soriano and Juan Manuel Cortés
L
ithium, one of the raw materials in various batteries, is the element powering
the technological revolution over the past 30 years that has led to people having
exponentially more electronic devices in their lives. According to Lopez et al.
(2019), lithium prices have changed dramatically in the last 10 years. In 2012, the
price for lithium was $9.50 per pound ($4.30/kg). At the end of January 2022, the
price reached $110.23 per pound ($50/kg). Projected annual worldwide demand
could reach 425,000 tons (386,000 tonnes) by 2025.
The industrial process to mine lithium includes the evaporation of brine in
large ponds covered by polyvinyl chloride (PVC) geomembranes (Figure 1), which
engineers design to waterproof a site. In South America, construction crews build
the ponds in salares (salt flats) where brine can be found underground. Once the
infrastructure is built and the ponds are filled, it can take 12 to 24 months to obtain
the first lot of lithium salt (Lopez et al. 2019).
Delays during design of the evaporation pond and in pond construction can
increase dramatically the time it takes to bring lithium salt from a salar to market.
Design engineers must analyze evidence that may indicate failures due to arid
climate conditions. Engineers have used the ASTM D7176-06 (ASTM D7176-06
2018) standard specification for buried nonreinforced PVC geomembrane applications
since 2006, with the last review occurring in 2018. In 2019, the Fabricated
Geomembrane Institute (FGI) updated its Material Specification for New PVC
Geomembranes (Fabricated Geomembrane Institute 2019). That specification considers
the importance of obtaining a lay-flat geomembrane to avoid wrinkles after
installation. Both ASTM and FGI standards list the density as an index property,
representing indirect information regarding geomembrane composition and field
performance in desert climates, and giving a general idea of geomembrane cost.
Although PVC geomembranes manufactured to these standards have shown
good performance in South American salares, not all the project owners choose
them, for various reasons that will be analyzed in this article.
Myriam Astrid Acevedo Soriano,
a chemist at the Universidad
Nacional de Colombia in Bogotá,
Colombia, worked at Filmtex
S.A.S in Bogotá for 30 years,
most recently as research and
development manager. She
retired in April 2022 and works
as a technical consultant.
Juan Manuel Cortés is sales
manager, decorative films and
waterproofing membranes, at
Filmtex S.A.S., and an architect
at Universidad de Los Andes in
Bogotá, Colombia.
All figures courtesy of the authors.
GeosyntheticsMagazine.com
13
http://www.GeosyntheticsMagazine.com

Geosynthetics June/July 2022

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Geosynthetics June/July 2022

Geosynthetics June/July 2022 - Cover1
Geosynthetics June/July 2022 - Cover2
Geosynthetics June/July 2022 - 1
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