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Sources of lithium

Lithium is concentrated by magmatic fractional crystallisation and partial melting which results in higher concentrations in some pegmatites and muscovite-bearing granites. During rock weathering, highly soluble lithium is taken into solution and transported with water. Locations where water is trapped inland, under arid conditions, concentrate the lithium into residual brines. These concentration mechanisms have formed the two deposit types: pegmatites and continental lithium brines in closed basins, which are the source of most mined lithium. Other sources of viable lithium resources include geothermal brines, jadarite, oilfield brines, and clay minerals such as hectorite. Lithium is also often produced as a by-product from potash operations. This diverse range of resource types requires a range of analytical methods for lithium measurement.


Lithium brines

While brines are the production target, geologists may also want to analyse solid salt crusts to evaluate the economic potential of associated brines during exploration.

Analysis of lithium brines

Depending on the range of total dissolved solids (TDS) in water samples, a range of methods is available. Lithium brines with very high total dissolved solids are most appropriately analysed by method ME-ICP15 which provides Li as part of a 28-element suite. Water samples with TDS <6% can be analysed using ME-MS14™ which delivers a more extensive suite of 46 elements, however, is not suitable for high TDS samples due to the sensitivity of the ICP-MS instrument. Physical parameters and alkalinity measurement for brines may be added via package Li-BrPKG. To analyse salt crusts from brine deposits, Li can be reported as a standalone analyte from aqua regia method Li-ICP41, and where the full element suite is sought, request method ME-ICP41.

Code Analytes & Ranges (mg/L)
ME-MS14 Li 0.01-10 Includes a suite of 46 elements relevant to brine exploration in addition to Li.
Requires 50mL brine.
Ag 0.5-100 Cd 0.2-100 Mg 5-10,000 S 5-50,000
Al 5-10,000 Co 1-1,000 Mn 0.5-1,000 Sb 5-1,000
As 5-1,000 Cr 1-1,000 Mo 0.5-1,000 Sc 0.05-2,000
B 5-10,000 Cu 0.5-1,000 Na 100-150,000 Sr 2-5,000
Ba 0.5-1,000 Fe 50-50,000 Ni 2-1,000 Ti 0.5-1,000
Be 0.05-100 K 100-150,000 P 5-1,000 V 0.5-1,000
Ca 10-150,000 Li 0.5-20,000 Pb 5-1,000 Zn 0.5-1,000
Li-BrPKG pH, conductivity,
TDS, Alkalinity;
Physical parameters and alkalinity of lithium brines.
Requires 100mL brine.

Lithium-bearing clays, carbonates, & sediments

Lithium in various sedimentary minerals is readily dissolved in acid digestions. In many cases, aqua regia digestions provide better Li recovery than four-acid due to complex chemical reactions which may precipitate varying amounts of insoluble Li salts in the presence of fluoride. Roasting samples prior to four acid digestion, particularly hectorite samples, may mitigate this effect. ALS recommends testing both methods to determine the best option for your deposit or continuing with the same method used in recent analytical work for consistency in the data set.

Clays, carbonates, & sediments analysis

Multi-element methods by both four-acid (ME-MS61™) and aqua regia (ME-MS41™) digestions are available for these sample types. When higher concentrations of lithium are expected, methods Li-ICP41 and Li-ICP61 can be used that include lithium specific CRMs. For ore grade concentrations, Li-OG63 from a four-acid digestion is recommended that also includes Li-specific CRMs.

Code Analytes & Ranges Description
Li-ICP41 Li 10ppm-1% Aqua regia and ICP-AES finish. Multi-element package also available. 0.5g sample
Li-ICP61 Li 10ppm-1% Four acid and ICP-AES finish. Multi-element package also available. 0.25g sample
Li-OG63 Li 0.005%-10% Ore grade Li by specialised four-acid digestion and ICP-AES finish.
Best suited to Li-bearing silicate sediments. 0.4g sample
RST-21 Dry roasting pre-treatment Roasting samples prior to analysis may increase Li recovery due to excess
water content promoting insoluble salt formation.

Lithium-bearing pegmatites & jadarite

These deposits host lithium in silicate minerals along with a wide variety of accessory economic elements, including but not limited to boron, beryllium, tantalum, niobium, tin, tungsten, and caesium. Many pegmatite minerals are very resistive to acid digestions, which will under-report element content if used. Sodium peroxide fusion is the recommended decomposition for these deposits.

Analysis of pegmatites & jadarite

Due to the presence of acid resistant minerals in these sample types, fusion methods are recommended. Methods offered range from trace level analysis in the ME-MS89L™ method to MS91-PKG which is applicable for intermediate grade samples to ME-ICP82b for ore grade concentrations.

Code Analytes & Ranges (ppm)

0.2g sample

Ag 5-12,500 Eu 0.03-25,000 Nb 0.8-25,000 Te 0.5-25,000
As 4-25,000 Fe 0.05%-25% Nd 0.07-25,000 Th 0.1-25,000
B* 8-25,000 Ga 0.5-25,000 Ni 10-25,000 Ti 0.005%-25%
Ba 2-25,000 Gd 0.03-25,000 Pb 0.5-25,000 Tl 0.02-25,000
Be 0.4-25,000 Ge 0.5-25,000 Pr 0.03-25,000 Tm 0.01-25,000
Bi 0.1-25,000 Ho 0.01-25,000 Rb 0.5-25,000 U 0.2-25,000
Ca 0.1%-25% In 0.3-25,000 Re 0.01-25,000 V 1-25,000
Cd 0.8-25,000 K 0.05%-25% Sb 0.3-25,000 W 0.3-25,000
Ce 0.2-25,000 La 0.08-25,000 Se 3-25,000 Y 0.2-25,000
Co 0.5-25,000 Li 2-25,000 Sm 0.04-25,000 Yb 0.02-25,000
Cs 0.1-25,000 Lu 0.05-25,000 Sn 3-25,000 Zn 10-25,000
Cu 20-25,000 Mg 0.01%-30% Sr 20-25,000
Dy 0.03-25,000 Mn 10-25,000 Ta 0.04-25,000
Er 0.02-25,000 Mo 2-25,000 Tb 0.01-25,000
*B-MS89L - Glassless digestion and analysis to eliminate boron from labware

Code Analytes & Ranges (%)
0.2g sample
Al2O3 0.02%-100% Cu 0.01%-50% MnO 0.01%-50% TiO2 0.02%-83%
As 0.01%-10% Fe2O3 0.01%-100% Ni 0.005%-30% Zn 0.01%-60%
CaO 0.07%-70% K2O 0.06%-60% Pb 0.01%-30%
Co 0.005%-30% Li 0.001%-10% S 0.01%-60%
Cr2O3 0.01%-88% MgO 0.01%-50% SiO2 0.2%-100%
MS91-PKG This package combines ME-ICP89 with ICP-MS determination of Nb, Ta, Sn, W, U and Th for an extended pegmatite exploration suite. 0.2g sample
ME-ICP82b Li
Assay grade lithium and/or boron by Na2O2 fusion and 0.001%-10% ICP-AES. Our highest precision method for Li and B 0.02%-50% resource determination in known deposits.
0.2g sample

Frequently asked questions



ALS Lithium Technical Note


Lithium Analysis Method Guide

Related Topics


Water analysis

Water samples with total dissolved solids above ~6% can be analysed by our routine water methodsfor a larger set of trace element analysis.