Geosynthetics June/July 2022 - 14

PVC geomembranes for South American lithium mining
The Bolivian, Argentinian and
Chilean governments-which have the
major salares within the borders of their
countries-have sought to protect the
activities of lithium mining companies
in the region; there are no governmentmandated
technical regulations for the
geosynthetic systems used in waterproofing
evaporation ponds at these sites.
The Bolivian,
Argentinian and Chilean
governments-which
have the major salares
within the borders of their
countries-have sought
to protect the activities of
lithium mining companies
in the region; there are no
government-mandated
technical regulations for
the geosynthetic systems
used in waterproofing
evaporation ponds at
these sites.
An economic overview of the
lithium industry
Today, many believe electric cars will
eventually be mass-produced in response
to CO2 emissions from single combustion
engines. Lithium is an essential element
for batteries in electric vehicles.
In South America, lithium brines are
found on the borders between Bolivia,
Argentina and Chile, an area known as
the Lithium Triangle.
Within the Lithium Triangle, following
exploration studies to determine the
location of underground lithium deposits
and to designate sites for evaporation
ponds, construction crews build evaporation
ponds that are subsequently covered
by PVC geomembranes. The brine is
pumped to the pools to promote fractioned
crystallization by wind action and
the sun (Berube et al. 2007). This evaporation
process can take several months
to obtain a concentrated brine of lithium
salts, which is then purified and dried at
an off-site chemical plant.
The impor t ance of PVC geomembrane
technical specifications is
enormous, considering the projects'
cost and the generally short time (less
than 12 months) from the start of construction
to the beginning of the lithium
production process. When design
engineers select an optimal PVC geomembrane
for the evaporation pond,
brine leakages in any of the crystallization
steps and, worse, material failure
can be avoided.
14
Geosynthetics | June July 2022
Selecting a PVC
geomembrane for lithium
evaporation ponds
Part of the process for engineers, project
owners, manufacturers and contractors
is selecting the proper material for the
job of containing the brine during the
evaporation cycle. But this part is not
easy, and each actor in the project will
confront challenges.
Controlling cost is one challenge.
The quality of the PVC geomembrane
is connected to this, because if the geomembrane
fails, it can cost the project
owner a lot of money. The project owner
needs to carefully balance the available
resources and the cost of the specified
geosynthetic system.
PVC geomembrane density gives an
idea of its composition, which defines
its price and predicts a relationship with
its possible performance in a desertic
area. In response to cost sensitivity in
the mining industry, PVC geomembrane
manufacturers developed technologies
to produce large, seamed panels (each
38,750 square feet [3,600 m2]), which
reduce the number of seams needed in
the field.
Another challenge is the high turnover
of personnel in the mining industry,
particularly in South America. Usually,
some of the technical inspectors and
other personnel in the field work only
on specific projects, not for the companies.
So, after they finish the project,
they move on to another project, likely
with a different company. This means
the technical knowledge and experience
they have acquired are lost to the original
company. Information regarding optimal
technical specifications does not transfer
from project to project.
In South America, there is also a lack
of geographic stations in the right places
to collect data of historical and environmental
conditions at mining exploration
sites, such as ultraviolet (UV) radiation,

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
Geosynthetics June/July 2022 - 2
Geosynthetics June/July 2022 - 3
Geosynthetics June/July 2022 - 4
Geosynthetics June/July 2022 - 5
Geosynthetics June/July 2022 - 6
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Geosynthetics June/July 2022 - 14
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Geosynthetics June/July 2022 - Cover3
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