Western Environmental
Testing Laboratory
Lithium Brine Testing- Part 2

Lithium Brine Testing- Methods for Analysis

In part one of this two part series, we provided an overview of WETLAB’s industry leading practices for Lithium Brine Testing. In part two, we will explore the strengths and limitations associated with each of the four testing methods, including ICP-OES- the preferred method of brine characterization.

WETLAB is an industry leader for lithium brine testing, and has excelled at characterization using ICP-OES. The four main methods of lithium brine testing each have its own strengths and limitations, which we explore below.

FAAS (Flame Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy) involves a nebulized sample being passed through an acetylene flame and the light absorbance of a specific wavelength is then measured. Some of the potential limitations involved with FAAS characterization include low sensitivity, relatively low ionization temperature (3000°C), and only one analyte can be run at a time. Phosphates and Sulfates can also form flame-stable metal salts, which can complicate analysis.

GFAAS (Graphite Furnace Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy) involves the sample being heated in a graphite tube, and then atomized light is passed through the tube and measured at a specific wavelength. Due to heating programming and specificity, GFAAS analyses are typically done for one element at a time. GFAAS also has long sampling times, low temperature, and a limited dynamic range.

ICP-MS (Inductively Coupled Plasma – Mass Spectrometry) involves a nebulized sample being passed through high temperature plasma to ionize atoms, which are then isolated by their mass/charge ratio and detected directly. ICP-MS can be an excellent option for some clients, but some of the limitations for lithium analysis are that lithium is very light and can be excluded by heavier atoms, and analysis is typically limited to <0.2% dissolved solids, which means that it is not great for brines. Equipment and technician training costs are also very high with this method.

ICP-OES (Inductively Coupled Plasma – Optical Emission Spectroscopy) involves a nebulized sample being passed through high temperature plasma to ionize atoms, which release light at specific wavelengths. This is the preferred analytical technique for most metals in any matrix, and all metals in a complex matrix such as brine solutions. ICP-OES can handle a high amount of dissolved solids, has little chemical interference, and has robust sample introduction with high-energy plasma (~10,000°C) plasma. ICP-OES can also perform multi-element analysis, easily determining concentrations of other metals (K, Mg, B, etc).   Although ICP-OES is the preferred technique, it does have some limitations. These include moderate detection limits, typically lower than FAAS but higher than GFAAS and ICP-MS in a clean matrix. Complex matrices (such as brine) can often require dilutions from the other methods that may raise the overall Detection Limit. Also, spectral Interferences are common, but can typically be easily compensated to eliminate.

 

To determine how WETLAB can help you get the data you need with our industry leading practices, call WETLAB at (775) 355-0202 and speak with someone from our highly skilled customer and sample management team.

 

Matt Weikel, Inorganic Laboratory Manager, presented at a training hosted by Nevada Water Resources Association (NWRA) regarding WETLAB’s industry leading lithium brine testing methods. In this two part series, we will provide an overview of this presentation, and explore various methods of analysis.

Lithium Brine extraction and processing is gaining traction in Nevada. Lithium mining uses evaporation ponds, which produces a brine that lithium is then extracted from. With lithium brine gaining popularity, lithium brine testing has become an interesting and ever-changing topic.

WETLAB has always sought to develop products and practices that are in our clients’ best interest, which is why we have perfected the ideal method of lithium brine testing to meet various client needs.   Lithium brine can be characterized on four different pieces of equipment, including:

  1. FAAS (Flame Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy)
  2. GFAAS (Graphite Furnace AAS)
  3. ICP-MS (Inductively Coupled Plasma – Mass Spectrometry)
  4. ICP-OES (Inductively Coupled Plasma – Optical Emission Spectroscopy)

WETLAB continues to excel at ICP-OES characterization, which is the preferred method of analysis for lithium brines.  Each of these methods has its own strengths and limitations, and is coupled with a digestion method to place the metals into solution. WETLAB commonly uses a two-acid digestion, HNO3 + HCl, which include EPA methods 200.2, 3010, and 3050. After the sample is digested, it is ready for analysis.  WETLAB commonly recommends using ICP-OES analysis, as it works best for the characteristics of brine, and obtaining other data metrics from the sample.

When you choose WETLAB for your lithium brine testing and characterization needs, you get a lot of benefits.   WETLAB prioritizes customer service and accurate analysis, and we’re always here to help you get what you want.   We ensure precise analysis through a robust QA/QC program coupled with several measures of internal data and accuracy checks.

Part two of this series, WETLAB Lithium Brine Testing, we will explore the strengths and limitations associated with each of the above testing methods, and determine why using WETLAB for ICP-OES analysis is ideal.

WETLAB is an analytical facility, so our area of expertise lies in our ability to achieve accurate results with relatively low reporting limits for difficult matrices such as brine solutions. In the past year, WETLAB has seen an increase in the submission of brine solutions for lithium analysis. WETLAB partners with consulting firms, soils, and geochemistry laboratories to provide a complete and precise set of data, with each team contributing from their strengths. Through analysis we’ve gained valuable knowledge and experience and have developed best practices to best analyze this difficult matrix.

As far as analytical difficulties with this matrix, there are several:

  • Li is a very light element. This precludes it from some testing methods outright (such as XRF/XRD).
  • When Li is in a matrix with a large number of heavier elements, it tends to be pushed around and selectively excluded due to its low mass. This provides challenges when using Mass Spectrometry.
  • A brine matrix also has the potential for much greater interferences regardless of method used.
Li Brine Testing

Lab Testing via Ion Chromatography

At WETLAB, we have handled many Li Brine solutions and extracts, which has given us a chance to gain experience and fine tune our methodologies to meet our clients’ needs. By using different phase-testing and isolation techniques, we are able to provide a good overall picture of the complete sample in situ. We have often tested the solid, aqueous, and slurry components individually from single samples to provide a fuller understanding of the mineralogy present.

Our low reporting limits allow us to complete the analytical process with a smaller initial sample size which saves time and cost when it comes to extractions and shipping. We are also able to do larger dilutions to eliminate or reduce interferences while further reducing native sample consumption.

We have the use of a full laboratory at our disposal, with staff experienced with difficult matrices and samples with high potential for interference. This allows us to provide other analytes with good accuracy and relatively low reporting limits. The complete profile can allow field specialists to determine the appropriate steps to drive their operation with less guess-work. For instance, we were able to provide quick and meaningful results for Iron and Phosphate for a client who suspected their Lithium was in a Lithium Ferrous Phosphate.

We are always happy to field any analytical-related questions at any time.