TIERRA Y TECNOLOGÍA Nº 60 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.21028/hl.2022.11.08 | Autores: Hanna Liventseva. Chairman of the Board of Ukrainian Association of Geologists. Mychailo Heichenko, Angelina Mienasova y Oleksii Falkovych.
Lithium belongs to the group of «battery elements». Scientists predict the «white gold», which is the lightest of metals, a «brilliant» future!
This review describes three lithium ore deposits in Ukraine – “Shevchenkivske”, “Polokhivske” and the “Dobra site”.
They are the most promising among others in terms of the economic feasibility of their development. Each of them has its advantages and disadvantages. The Shevchenkiv’s deposit is located in Pryazovsky, and the other two – in the Ingulsk’s megablocks. On the first, the main ore mineral is spodumene, on the second – petalite, on the Dobra site the mixed type is spodumene-petalite. All three deposits are covered by a rather thick layer of sedimentary rocks and weathering crust (up to 100 m). They are located in the steppe zone with a predominantly flat topography.
The deposits were discovered at the end of the twentieth century as a result of large-scale regional geological research. They have different degrees of geological study. A common drawback is the lack of core material.
Lithium ore reserves and resources up to a depth of 500 m from the day surface are estimated at the specified deposits.
Taking into account the constantly growing demand for lithium, investing in the development of these deposits in Ukraine is a promising business.
|SCMR||State Committee of Ukraine for Mineral Reserves|
|SGSSU||State Geologic and Subsoil Survey of Ukraine, Ukrainian Geological Survey|
|NASU||National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine|
|SSPE||State scientific and production enterprise|
|USGS||U.S. Geological Survey|
|С1||reserves that have been studied in detail|
|С2||reserves that are estimated preliminary|
GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT LITHIUM
Nowadays the «lithium triangle» of South America is the place where the biggest amount of lithium in the world is mined. It covers the territories of Chile, Bolivia and Argentina.
The lithium in the triangle is concentrated in various salt pans that exist along the Atacama Desert and neighboring arid areas, the largest ones including Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, Salar de Atacama in Chile and Salar del Hombre Muerto in Argentina.
53% of the world’s lithium reserves are obtained here. But this is not enough, so the issue of expanding the mining market is pressing. Fig.1.
Humanity has set an ambitious goal – by 2050, about 50% of the world’s electricity has to be generated by solar and wind power.
Reducing CO2 emissions into the planet’s atmosphere is a necessary condition for the existence of all life on Earth.
Electrification of transport and the transition to renewable energy sources (green transition) are effective and environmentally friendly ways to reduce CO2 emissions.
Growing production of electric vehicles and increasing number of windmills and solar panels require lithium-ion batteries.
Accordingly, it requires more lithium and increases the demand for this metal.
Lithium occupies a special place among rare metals, because at this historical and economic stage of energy development, lithium technology has no serious competition.
The main areas of lithium use are shown in the Fig. 2.
The main sources of industrial lithium production in the world:
- rare metallic pegmatites (~ 25% of explored reserves and ~ 55% of production);
- lithium-containing brine of salt deposits and lakes (~ 75% of explored reserves and ~ 45% of production) .
LITHIUM MINERALIZATION IN UKRAINE
In Ukraine, the region richest in solid minerals is the Ukrainian Shield (USh), represented by crystalline rocks of the Early Precambrian age (Archaean-Lower Proterozoic formation) and their weathering crusts.
Deposits of all groups of metallic and non-metallic minerals are found here: ferrous, non-ferrous and alloying, noble, radioactive, scattered, rare and rare-earth; mining-chemical, mining-technical, non-metallic minerals for metallurgy, construction, as well as precious, manufactured and collectible stones.
Iron, manganese, titanium, kaolin, facing stones, amber are traditional solid minerals, the production of which Ukraine occupies one of the leading places in the world.
Exploration of graphite, gold and rare metals has intensified in the global world in recent years.
The reasons of this were changes in world conditions and good prospects for the discovery of new deposits.
Among the latter, a special place is occupied by lithium.
Mainly due to the fact that at this historical and economic stage of the development of energy sources and in the future, lithium technology has no serious competition.
A lot of lithium ore occurrences (about 10) have been identified in Ukraine.
Most of them are located within the Ukrainian Shield and are associated with rare metal pegmatites.
Nowadays there are three objects of practical interest that can be considered as deposits: Shevchenkivske, Polokhivske and Dobra site  (Fig. 3).
Some experts also consider the Balka Kruta, which is located near the Shevchenkivske deposit as a promising object.
However, in our opinion, its small size and low content of lithium oxide do not give grounds to count on the economic profitability of its development after further study.
The Shevchenkivske deposit is located in the Pryazovsky megablock, and the other two – in the Ingul megablocks (respectively, the Western Pryazovsky and Central Ukrainian metallogenic districts).
The reserves of lithium ores are accounted for by the state balance sheet of minerals.
In the first of them the main ore mineral is spodumene, in the second – petalite, in the Dobra site – mixed type – spodumene-petalite.
All three deposits are covered with a powerful thick layer of sedimentary rocks and weathering crust (60 – 100 m in total) .
They are located in the steppe zone with a predominant flat relief.
Thus, geological study of deposits can be carried out only by drilling.
Ore bodies in these deposits are steeply falling.
Water supply of the population in these areas is carried out at the expense of underground waters.
Therefore, from an economic, environmental and social position, they can be developed only by underground method (mines).
Peculiarities of geological study of objects in Ukraine
These deposits were discovered in the late 20th century as a result of regional geological research (geological survey and mapping).
They were carried out at the expense of the state budget by state geological enterprises.
They have different levels of geological studying.
Unfortunately, the core material obtained during the geological study of these deposits has not been preserved to date.
Stages of geological study in Ukraine (inherited from the USSR) differ from European standards.
There are three stages: regional geological research, prospecting work and exploration of deposits .
Each of these stages is divided into sub-stages.
In addition, the categorization of resources and mineral reserves differs from those used in the codes of the CRIRSCO family (JORC, etc.).
Category C2 reserves (the lowest category) can be defined as Measured Mineral Resource.
All three lithium ore deposits in Ukraine have a very complex geological structure.
They are studied with the help of wells.
The category of their reserves does not exceed C1.
Lithium ore reserves and resources up to a depth of 500 m from the day surface are calculated at the specified deposits (estimated solid mineral resources).
The Shevchenkivske deposit is administratively located in the Donetsk region, 1 km northeast of the village of Shevchenko, 3 km east of the administrative border with Zaporizhzhia region.
Lithium mineralization is associated with albite-spodumene-type pegmatites.
It was discovered in 1982 during a 1:50,000-scale deep geological mapping.
In 1983-1986, exploration work was carried out within the site of development of rare metal pegmatites.
According to the results of the work, the main ore-controlling factors of rare-metal mineralization have been established, the zonation of the pegmatite field has been revealed, and the site of distribution of rare-metal pegmatites has been outlined.
During the prospecting work the internal structure and material composition of pegmatite bodies were studied, and the basic scheme of enriched ore was developed.
In 1984-1987, preliminary exploration was carried out and the central part of the pegmatite field in a site of 0.8 km2 was explored.
Within its boundaries were identified six steeply falling pegmatite bodies of albite-spodumene composition. They occur in early Proterozoic formations at depths of 65 to 500 m (Fig.4).
More than 80% of ore and rare metal reserves are concentrated in two ore bodies with an average thickness/size of 17-19 m.
Lithium ore reserves were calculated within the geological boundaries of pegmatite vein ore bodies to a depth of 500 m.
Based on the results of the preliminary exploration, a conclusion was made as to the expediency of conducting a detailed exploration of the Shevchenkivskе deposit.
However, during the USSR era, these works were not carried out.
In 2017, a preliminary geological and economic assessment was conducted on the deposit without additional drilling (by chameral method) with private funds (Petro-Consulting LLP).
Based on its results, a report was compiled and stocks of lithium ores were calculated, which were tested by the State Commission of Ukraine on Mineral Resources (SCMR) in the same year.
The Shevchenkivske deposit is dated to the north-eastern frame of the West Priazovsky block of the USh. Structurally, the deposit is a narrow isoclinal fold of sub meridional extension with the fall of rocks to the west at an angle of 60-900.
The width of the pegmatite field is 260-300 m, the length is 1400 m, and they are traced to a depth of 600 m.
The thickness of the weathering crust is up to 35 m.
Ore minerals in it are replaced by clay products that do not contain lithium.
Pegmatite veins are compact, have a steep slope, northern extension, complex zonal structure, with sharp fluctuations in power.
There are seven structural and mineralogical zones.
The deposit is covered by Mesozoic-Cenozoic formations with a thickness of 70-120 m.
The ore bodies of the deposit are represented by a system of subparallel steeply falling rare-metal pegmatite bodies.
They form a single vein series.
All the main veins of pegmatites have a length of 150-500 m, relatively sustained in thickness
The material composition of the pegmatite bodies of the Shevchenkivske deposit is quite simple.
Rock-forming minerals (albite, microcline, quartz) occupy about 80-95% of the volume of pegmatite veins.
Only 5-10% is accounted for by lithium minerals: spodumene, rarely petalite.
Lithium mica and lithium phosphates, as well as the rare metal minerals niobium, tantalum, beryllium and tin in the veins do not have practical importance.
The main concentrator of lithium in the ore is spodumene.
Microcline-albite-spodumene variety of ores occupies a leading position in the deposit.
It predominates in all ore-bearing pegmatite bodies and in the total balance of lithium ores is more than 90%.
Petalite-spodumene variety of ores in the deposit is limited.
In the total balance of ores, it is less than 8.5%.
The main concentrator of lithium in it is also spodumene.
The role of petalite in the balance of lithium oxide is insignificant.
In general, it has virtually no effect on total lithium reserves.
The results of ГЕО-2 were considered by the SCMR, tested reserves of lithium ore in categories C1 + C2 or according to the UN International Framework Classification of 1998, class codes 121 and 122) in a ratio of 2:3 .
Polokhiv deposit is located in the central part of Ukraine in an industrialized site.
Located in the Novoukrainsky district of Kirovograd region, 12 km northeast of Smolino.
The deposit was discovered during forecasting and geological work on a scale of 1:50 000.
From 1990 to 1993, prospecting and evaluation works were carried out at here with drilling of deep and mapping wells (the latter were deepened into crystalline rocks by several m).
Deep wells were drilled on a network of approximately 200-100 × 200-100 m to a depth of 500-600 m.
As a result, three ore zones were identified in the length from 200 to 550 m, in the fall from 350 to 520 m (Fig.5).
It was determined that the ores of the Polokhiv deposit are ordinary in terms of lithium oxide content.
They are composed of albite, petalite, microcline, quartz, with a subordinate content of spodumene, apatite, triphylite.
Ores are fine-grained, petalite technological type.
Technological research has proved the possibility of using petalite ores of the Polokhiv deposit for the extraction of lithium metal and for use in various other industries (ceramic, cement, rubber and other industries).
In 2016, Ukrlithiummining LLC performed a preliminary ГЕО-2 of lithium ore reserves of the Polokhiv deposit at its own expense and tested them in the SCMR.
In 2017-2018, a detailed geological and economic assessment (ГЕО-1, or detailed exploration) was performed at the object, during which 6 deep wells with a total volume of 1.8 thousand linear meters were drilled.
According to the results of these works, the reserves of lithium ores categories C1+C2 in the amount of 27.7 thousand tons were calculated and approved in the SCRM.
From 2019, for the recommendation of a competent person, geological exploration and work are carried out.
During this time, 8 additional exploration wells were drilled, 1 – engineering and geological, several – engineering and hydrogeological. Technological researches of ores are carried out for the purpose of definition of the most effective scheme of their processing, and also researches of rocks and soil for the purposes of designing of underground mine workings and ground constructions.
Structurally, the object is located within the central part of the Ingul megablock of the Ukrainian Shield in the south-western exocontact of the Korsun-Novomyrhorod pluton.
The Polokhiv deposit is located within the granite massif of the same name, which extends in the north-western direction at an angle of 320-330º at a distance of 1200 m.
The mineralization is timed to the north-western closure of the massif. Rare metal ores are placed in leucocratic aplite-pegmatoid granites.
In general, the Polokhiv granite massif and the gneisses surrounding them are characterized by a rather calm tectonic environment. Distinctive tectonic faults of considerable thickness have not been established.
Lithium ore from the Polokhiv deposit is represented by metasomatites of microcline-petalite-albite composition.
The main feature for all ore bodies of the Polokhiv deposit is the fine-grained petalite type of ore.
About 95% of lithium is associated with petalite.
Other lithium minerals presented in the ore (spodumene, triphylite, lepidolite)  are of no practical importance due to their low content.
The Dobra lithium ore site is located in the same Novoukrainsky district of the Kirovohrad region, 65 km southwest of the Polokhiv deposit.
It consists of two ore occurrences – Stankuvatsky (or Northern) and Nadiya (Southern), located one above the other.
They are spatially divided among themselves rather conditionally in the presence of only one ore-free profile. The distance between them is 600-700 m.
Оre occurrences were discovered during forecasting and geological works in 1985-1992 and were studied in detail in exploration works on a scale of 1:25 000 (1991 -2001).
During this period, 23 exploration and mapping wells and 49 deep inclined wells were drilled in the contour of the site. The network of deep wells was 800-400 – 250-100 m.
The site is a linearly elongated structure in the sub-meridional direction with a length of more than 4 km with a thickness of up to 500 m.
It is traced to a depth of 500 m, but the ore zones may continue deeper than the specified horizon (Fig.6).
It is a field of development of close in space steeply falling subparallel dikes and dike-like bodies of pegmatites, which occur among metamorphic formations – amphibolites, gneisses.
The thickness of bodies varies from tens of cm to 50-60 m.
Usually, the largest dikes tend to the core/central parts of the pegmatite series.
The number of dikes within such series reaches 8-12.
The largest of them can be traced along strike for 600–800 m.
Ore mineralization is represented by the minerals petalite and spodumene.
There are three types of ores: petalite, spodumene and mixed.
The leading role belongs to the latter.
In general, in a site, the petalite quantitatively prevails over the spodumene.
Crystalline rocks are overlain by loose terrigenous deposits of Meso-Cenozoic and weathering crust.
Ore manifestations of lithium-containing pegmatites Nadiya and Stankuvatske are located within one structural, metallogenic and ore-bearing zone.
In the fall of 2017, the SCMR recommended to combine two ore occurrences into one ore zone – the Dobra site.
In 2017, Petro-Consulting LLC conducted an initial geological and economic assessment (ГЕО-3) in a restudy (without additional drilling and laboratory research).
In 2018, a preliminary geological and economic assessment (ГЕО-2) of the reserves and resources of lithium ores at the Dobra site was made, which were tested in the SCMR.
The Dobra site is studied on a rare and uneven network.
The mineralization is not delineated along the dip.
Therefore, during calculating reserves and resources, the method of external extrapolation was used.
Along the strike, the mineralization was outlined in the middle between the ore and non-ore sections.
No sharp wedging of ore zones is observed at ore occurrences.
Lithium mineralization of the Dobra site is localized in three ore zones.
They extend in parallel in the submeridional direction and which subparallel occur in rare metal pegmatites.
All three zones extend in the submeridional and north-western directions (azimuth of extension 340-355 °) with western, south-western fall (angles of incidence 65-78 °).
The first (the smallest) ore zone is traced for 2,140 m.
The second (the largest) ore zone is located in the central part of the site; it is traced for 2,790 m.
The third ore zone is localized in the lying side of the ore occurrence; it is traced for 2,780 m.
The ores in the Dobra site are complex.
In addition to lithium, there are elevated concentrations of Ta, Nb, Rb, Cs, Be and Sn. For these components, promising resources are calculated (corresponding to class code 334).
In total, in the site of Dobra resources, which, according to the UN International Framework Classification (since 1998), correspond to the codes of classes 122, 332, 333 and 334 (which are 13%, 82% and 5%, respectively), in 2018 were tested in the SCMR and are more than 100 thousand tons of ore.
Ukrainian and world practice show that according to the results of detailed geological works on the field and obtained network of observations that will assess the reserves and that will correspond to the codes of classes 111, 121 and 122, their (reserves) number may decrease by tens of% (up to half).
Thus, all three deposits of lithium ores are promising in terms of economic feasibility of their development.
Each of them has its advantages and disadvantages.
The Polokhiv deposit is the most prepared for ore mining.
There is currently a pre-project research phase.
Many experts consider it the largest in Europe, especially since there are good prospects for increasing reserves to depth.
The deposit is quite compact, represented by bodies of solid ores, the thickness of which reaches 80 m (unlike the other two objects, where the ores are a series of veins); relatively simple for underground development. It is located in a region with a developed infrastructure of mining.
However, the mineral type of ore here is petalite. Its processing to obtain the final lithium products (hydroxide or carbonate) is more complex and expensive than spodumene ore. The ores of the Shevchenkivske deposit are mentioned. However, it is much smaller in size.
To confirm historical data and increase the density of observations, it is necessary to drill an additional two dozen exploratory wells, perform a certain amount of laboratory tests, including technological studies of ores to improve the scheme of ore beneficiation.
The Dobra site is potentially the best site, and the expected reserves may be twice as large as at the Polokhiv deposit.
Ores are represented by petalite, spodumene and mixed types. In addition, the ores here are complex, provided the available data confirm that it will be possible to extract other rare metals together with lithium. The main problem is the low degree of geological study.
To prepare the site for industrial development, it is necessary to drill about a hundred exploratory wells and perform a large amount of laboratory and analytical research.
In addition to these facilities, Ukraine has prospects for the discovery of new lithium deposits.
Thus, Ukrainian geologists have discovered manifestations of this metal in the sedimentary complexes of the Venda (Ediacaria) of Podillya and the Carboniferous of Donbas; Rare metal pegmatites of the Middle Dnipro region and Kryvyi Rih-Kremenchug zone (central Ukraine), Volyn megablock (northwestern Ukraine) are promising .
15 years ago, in the last mentioned megablock one of the authors of the article discovered an ore manifestation of the spodumene type of ore .
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