Lithium Extraction Plan Takes Root in Arkansas: Q&A

Apr 8, 2021 07:42 AM ET
  • El Dorado, Arkansas, was an oil boomtown a century ago when crude was found in the Smackover Development. Since then the underground brine from the Smackover has ended up being a major world source of business bromine.

Currently a procedure has actually begun to draw out something new from the south Arkansas salt water-- lithium, the key to lithium-ion batteries, which are key to electrical automobiles, which are key to decarbonizing the UNITED STATE transport market. Could be a big deal.

Standard Lithium Ltd., based in Vancouver, isn't a miner or a driller, states CEO Robert Mintak.

"We are a modern technology programmer for specialized chemicals and also extractive procedures," he claimed in a telephone meeting with BloombergNEF in January. As well as it's applying those processes to pull lithium from the brine of the Smackover in a pilot project.

El Dorado's chemical industry and also the state regulative structure bordering it, together with numerous water as well as inexpensive electrical power, have actually smoothed the path for Standard Lithium, which wants to be extracting lithium at industrial scale within two years. Mintak took concerns from BNEF in a January telephone interview, which has been modified for brevity as well as quality.

BloombergNEF: What is Standard Lithium? For how long have you been there?

Mintak: We are concentrated on bringing lithium projects online making use of contemporary procedure innovation. We can utilize existing brownfield project financial investments in facilities to fast-track extraction and also manufacturing. I took control of the company with Andy Robinson (president and chief operating police officer) in 2017.

BNEF: Why Arkansas?

Mintak: We instantly determined Arkansas as the most effective chance to bring an U.S. lithium project online and also right into production much faster than anybody else. The good news is, that contrasted what any individual else was thinking about, so Arkansas was an open playing field for us. It's home to the world's second-largest salt water sector-- removing minerals from brine-- as well as the information revealed lithium worths were commercially feasible and very attractive.

BNEF: Exactly how did you get started?

Mintak: The permitting element of it was straightforward due to the fact that it's extremely friendly for organization advancement. It had 60 years of brine sector laws, all of the facilities and contractors as well as associated businesses existed, and also the processes to draw out lithium from brine that have actually been under development for 40-plus years have actually moved much sufficient from principle to being prepared.

BNEF: When was this?

Mintak: We got on the ground in 2017 and acquired a huge land placement, one that included years of data from oil as well as gas market boring. So we knew it would certainly be no exploration danger. Thankfully for us, we entered at the same time Lanxess Company, that are now our companions on the project, acquired the largest brine processing centers in North America, when they purchased Chemtura in summer season 2017.

BNEF: Exactly how did that aid?

Mintak: We assembled a process constructed for the Arkansas salt water, did a provisionary patent declaring in 2017 and also built a relationship with Lanxess, where we can demonstrate the procedure as well as scale it to a pilot. Then over the last three years we increased regarding C$ 60 million to take that initial principle to now running the globe's largest pure straight extraction lithium modern technology of its kind.

We're bargaining an official joint endeavor with Lanxess. We're confident that this year we'll have a final financial investment decision to construct the initial industrial lithium project in 60 years in the UNITED STATE

BNEF: You get on the doorstep below.

Mintak: Yes. The method we have actually taken isn't a silver bullet, it won't address issues on a variety of projects, but it works in the brine sector. It would have been a battle for us to elevate the money to do what we're doing and also obtain as much achieved if we weren't able to link into the existing framework.

BNEF: How much lithium are you mosting likely to be able to extract?

Mintak: We call our technology LiSTR, for lithium stir tank reactor. That process-- and also we checked it with the real-world salt water, not an artificial item-- is running currently, plugged into the brine output from among Lanxess's three plants, running 24 hr a day in real life problems at 1/60th business scale.

Lanxess presses greater than 5 billion gallons of brine yearly through 3 plants that they have in south Arkansas. So the technological report that was published on our part by Worley Parsons contemplates just under 21,000 tons of lithium carbonate recouped from that brine flow. To ensure that's five times the current U.S. manufacturing without needing to allow apart from modifications, without having to drill wells, without having to put in anything except the attaching pipelines, marginal environmental footprint, very little framework since whatever exists-- road, rail, power, water, every little thing.

BNEF: Just how much will it cost?

Mintak: Every lithium project is bespoke, whether it's an acid rock, salt water, or clay deposit. On a huge project you've reached go down half a billion or even $1 billion just to go into manufacturing. This can stand up as well as running since we're linking into the back of existing centers. It will take 3 stages to reach 21,000 lots as modeled in the Worley Parsons report, for a total of $437 million.

BNEF: Just how much lithium is there?

Mintak: This area has 60 years' well worth of bromine manufacturing, but no one's touched the lithium. The Smackover is an abnormality around the world as a brine resource-- it goes from central Texas right to Florida, thousands of feet thick, limestone aquifer, extremely porous with high permeability. You can relocate west where we start on the Lanxess project, via the south Arkansas fairway and after that you can go across into Texas. So you could be north of 100,000 lots in the area in a couple of years.

BNEF: You thought of the process, and then located the source?

Mintak: No, the contrary. When we entered into Arkansas, we had actually been working in the lithium room for the better part of a years. We had the ability to obtain brine from Lanxess that we required to Ontario, where we evaluated to discover what worked as well as what would certainly scale. We also took a look at the expense of power and also the current allowed chemical reagents on the site, so we didn't need to stress over introducing products that might require new permitting. So the process was established in reverse.

BNEF: Just how does it function?

Mintak: The brine is a chloride matrix brine. It enters into our plant at about 70 levels Celsius (155 levels Fahrenheit). It's mixed with a lithium-selective absorptive material. We readjust the pH to around neutral as well as in less than thirty minutes we have the ability to recoup greater than 90% of the lithium from the brine, then the lithium-free brine is reinjected back right into the aquifer.

Then the lithium is moved in a slurry via cleaning as well as thickening stages till it reaches a toothpaste uniformity after concerning 90 mins. We change the pH once more by introducing a diluted hydrochloric acid, and also ultimately we have a raw lithium chloride service. In less than a day we have actually recovered 90% of the lithium in a high-purity lithium chloride solution, which is extremely similar but greater purity than you would certainly get as you would enter a classic evaporation process that would certainly take 8, 12, 15 months. So it's a much smaller footprint, greater healings, and a higher purity as well as product. You after that convert that lithium chloride to a strong lithium carbonate.

BNEF: How big is the market?

Mintak: The U.S. has been neglected regarding brand-new projects being developed over the last few years. Australia, Chile and Argentina have actually seen most of the financial investment as well as new production, which's left a substantial chance in North America, and also the U.S. particularly, for projects that can outlive the boom-bust commodity cycle.

BNEF: What concerning prices?

Mintak: Our company believe we'll be in the lowest quartile internationally on expense. It is a low- to mid-grade source, not a state-of-the-art source like Albemarle Corp. as well as SQMhave in Chile, but we're certain in our costing. The major price inputs are chemical reagents-- acids and also bases. We make use of the same reagents that they normally make use of in the bromine company and they're made in your area, so the price is low. We have great accessibility to water, and also the electricity prices are low.

BNEF: It sounds like an optimal place.

Mintak: I concur. In El Dorado, we can make the reagents we use in the exact same ZIP code. They teach salt water handling at South Arkansas University, which is 10 minutes away. They've got every sort of specialist to build a project such as this within a 10-minute drive. You have actually obtained an allowing regime in place.

BNEF: What are the next actions?

Mintak: We require to take it to business growth. This will certainly be a first, and we will certainly find out points in the process. The genuine advantage is that our project companions, Lanxess, are mosting likely to be giving the main funding for industrial advancement.

BNEF: Batteries are forecast to keep obtaining less expensive-- how much of that is because of access to economical lithium?

Mintak: Lithium is part of it, but it's even more the economic climates of scale. Energy density is boosting, and also even more cash is entering into structure efficiencies. On the raw product side, there needs to be a balance-- you're not mosting likely to develop something if you need to pay an exorbitant amount for basic materials. It additionally needs to be at a worth where individuals buy the raw material upstream, and also it hasn't existed in the past couple of years, and that is going to return to bite the sector.

BNEF: What do you suggest? Exactly how do you see the following few years taking shape?

Mintak: We're wanting to begin industrial layout as well as advancement this year, with production by the end of 2022 or 2023 in a presented incremental buildup, to ensure that will be 5 years. This industry generally sees 7, 10, 15 years to obtain a project constructed. To make sure that lack of investment in the decline may delay exactly how fast the auto suppliers have the ability to create and also press [electric vehicles] out.

BNEF: What will that suggest for you?

Mintak: That's where the opportunity for us exists in North America. The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Contract requires 70% country of origin in The United States and Canada for any type of product that is produced here, and there is no lithium, cobalt or graphite manufacturing in North America. So it truly offers an opportunity. Albemarle just announced that they're considering expanding manufacturing in The United States and Canada, however that's increasing their existing mine in Nevada from 4,000 to 8,000 heaps, which is a spit in the sea.

So companies like ours have a chance to really radiate. I assume the shift is going to be at least right into 2030, due to the fact that it's mosting likely to take that lengthy to refit the auto sector.