E3 Metals CEO Chris Doornbos joined INN at PDAC to discuss his company’s direct brine lithium extraction project in Alberta’s Leduc Reservoir.
E3 Metals (TSXV:ETMC,OTC Pink:EEMMF,FWB:OU7A) CEO Chris Doornbos joined the Investing News Network (INN) at the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada conference to provide insights regarding the company’s lithium brine project and its partnership with Philadelphia-based Livent (NYSE:LTHM), a global leader in lithium production and technology.
E3 Metals is developing direct brine lithium extraction technology to tap into the lithium resources identified in the Leduc Reservoir located in south-central Alberta, one of Alberta’s oldest oil fields. Home to the first oil discovery in the region, Leduc has hosted oil and gas exploration and operations for 70 years. While the region’s oil wells are past their production life, the water left behind in these wells in the Clearwater resource area alone is enough to support an estimated 50,000-tonne lithium hydroxide operation for up to 35 years.
“A by-product of producing oil is water. The lithium is dissolved in the water. The benefit we have is that this reservoir has been producing since the 1940s when Exxon Mobil discovered it, so it’s pretty much out of oil. There are some small pockets of production left, but the majority of what’s left is the water,” Doornbos told INN. “It’s massive: 40 kilometers by 160 kilometers wide, and 250 meters thick. It is an absolutely massive deposit, and it contains lithium that allows us to build a project around it.” Doornbos also commented on the significance of lithium production from Alberta’s oil wells as a means of helping the province’s economy push past its reliance on oil markets by diversifying into another energy-related commodity.
With the help of advanced extraction technologies and the benefit of the existing oil well infrastructure, direct brine lithium extraction is expected to provide a fast and low-cost route to lithium production compared to that of hard rock mining in Australia or the traditional brine operations of South America which require evaporation ponds.
“We produce the brine from the reservoir exactly like you would an oil and gas production. There are wells where you take it out of the ground, put it in a pipeline and it’s a short distance to a production facility,” said Doornbos. “In the oil and gas world, you’re taking oil out of the water. In our world, we’re taking lithium out of the water. But the same principles apply. For us, the infrastructure, the services, the skill set, everything exists in Alberta to develop this project.”
For the past three years, E3 Metals has been focused on developing a viable process for removing lithium directly from the brine with the aid of advanced extraction technologies which the company has been developing with its partner Livent. The global lithium and technology company has the option to gain a potential 19.9 percent stake in E3 Metals with the completion of a successful pilot plant operation. “They are absolute experts in making lithium products. Not just carbonate, which they make in South America, but they also make hydroxide in multiple locations throughout the world to meet specifications for the OEMs. So they have that expertise as well, and they’re obviously critical for us,” Doornbos said.
The entire direct brine lithium extraction process takes a few hours, as opposed to as much as two years in a traditional evaporation pond. “It allows us to chemically remove the lithium from the brine, rather than using evaporation. We’re able to strip the lithium out and make a very clean lithium concentrate with very minor impurities and a very high grade,” he explained. “We take it from 80 milligrams per liter in the raw brine to over 5,000 milligrams per liter.”
The process removes 99 percent of the impurities, which is critical for the production of battery-grade lithium products. “If you’re making lithium hydroxide and you want to sell that for top dollar into the battery market, you need to develop a very pure product and that purity is how price is assigned to your product,” said Doornbos. “The biggest thing with those projects is that they have concentrated the lithium, but they’ve concentrated everything as well. Because we concentrate lithium, but we don’t concentrate any other elements in it, our cleanup step to get it to pure product is a lot smaller and a lot simpler, and therefore, potentially a lot less expensive than a traditional scenario.”
E3 Metals’ partner Livent has invested up to US$5.5 million into proving the technology. Over the next 12 months, part of that investment is expected to fund a pilot plant in Alberta to demonstrate that the company has a viable solution for extracting lithium from oil well brine. “We’re working on our own development plans, so what happens on the other side of this is that the lithium production is the critical piece,” said Doornbos. “A brine production plant needs to be put together for the company to deliver the product to the production facility that we’re working on with Livent to design.” E3 Metals is also looking to upgrade its NI 43-101 lithium resources at Leduc from the inferred to the indicated category.
Existing infrastructure and an industry-friendly government aren’t the only benefits of the project’s Alberta, Canada location. North America has only one lithium operation currently in production today. According to Doornbos, the metal’s status as a strategic mineral in North America reflects the need to develop battery metal supply lines a little closer to home. “We’ve been participating in the last couple of days with the [Canadian] federal government on their strategic minerals strategy that’s been signed with the United States for exactly that purpose because they’ve identified that some of these minerals are critical–and in the US, lithium is included in this list for sure. This is a really impactful, meaningful development strategy to assist companies like us because a lot of what’s going into these batteries is not coming out of North America,” said Doornbos. “We’re very excited to make this a homegrown Canadian story and go all the way to a product that we can sell directly to a customer.”
For a more comprehensive update from E3 Metals CEO Chris Doornbos, watch the video above.
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