Monday 27th February 2017

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Posts tagged ‘lithium’

Battery infographic series Part 5: The future of battery technology

February 23rd, 2017

by Jeff Desjardins | posted with permission of Visual Capitalist | February 23, 2017

The Battery Series presents five infographics exploring what investors need to know about modern battery technology, including raw material supply, demand and future applications.

The future of battery technology

This is the last instalment of the Battery Series. For a recap of what has been covered so far, see the evolution of battery technology, the energy problem in context, the reasons behind the surge in lithium-ion demand and the critical materials needed to make lithium-ion batteries.

There’s no doubt that the lithium-ion battery has been an important catalyst for the green revolution, but there is still much work to be done for a full switch to renewable energy.

The battery technology of the future could:

  • Make electric cars a no-brainer choice for any driver

  • Make grid-scale energy storage solutions cheap and efficient

  • Make a full switch to renewable energy more feasible

Right now, scientists see many upcoming battery innovations that promise to do this. However, the road to commercialization is long, arduous and filled with many unexpected obstacles.

The near-term: Improving the Li-ion

For the foreseeable future, the improvement of battery technology relies on modifications being made to already-existing lithium-ion technology. In fact, experts estimate that lithium-ions will continue to increase capacity by 6% to 7% annually for a number of years.

Here’s what’s driving those advances:

Efficient manufacturing

Tesla has already made significant advances in battery design and production through its Gigafactory:

  • Better engineering and manufacturing processes

  • Wider and longer cell design allows more materials packaged into each cell

  • New battery cooling system fits more cells into battery pack

Better cathodes

Most of the recent advances in lithium-ion energy density have come from manipulating the relative quantities of cobalt, aluminum, manganese and nickel in the cathodes. By 2020, 75% of batteries are expected to contain cobalt in some capacity.

For scientists, it’s about finding the materials and crystal structures that can store the maximum amount of ions. The next generation of cathodes may be born from lithium-rich layered oxide materials (LLOs) or similar approaches, such as the nickel-rich variety.

Better anodes

While most lithium-ion progress to date has come from cathode tinkering, the biggest advances might happen in the anode.

Current graphite anodes can only store one lithium atom for every six carbon atoms—but silicon anodes could store 4.4 lithium atoms for every one silicon atom. That’s a theoretical tenfold increase in capacity!

However, the problem with this is well documented. When silicon houses these lithium-ions, it ends up bloating in size up to 400%. This volume change can cause irreversible damage to the anode, making the battery unusable.

To get around this, scientists are looking at a few different solutions.

1. Encasing silicon in a graphene “cage” to prevent cracking after expansion.

2. Using silicon nanowires, which can better handle the volume change.

3. Adding silicon in tiny amounts using existing manufacturing processes—Tesla is rumoured to be doing this already.

Solid-state lithium-ion

Lastly, a final improvement that is being worked on for the lithium-ion battery is to use a solid-state setup, rather than having liquid electrolytes enabling the ion transfer. This design could increase energy density in the future, but it still has some problems to resolve first, such as ions moving too slowly through the solid electrolyte.

The long term: Beyond the lithium-ion

Here are some new innovations in the pipeline that could help enable the future of battery technology:

Lithium-air

Anode: Lithium

Cathode: Porous carbon (oxygen)

Promise: 10 times greater energy density than Li-ion

Problems: Air is not pure enough and would need to be filtered. Lithium and oxygen form peroxide films that produce a barrier, ultimately killing storage capacity. Cycle life is only 50 cycles in lab tests

Variations: Scientists also trying aluminum-air and sodium-air batteries

Lithium-sulphur

Anode: Lithium

Cathode: Sulphur, carbon

Promise: Lighter, cheaper and more powerful than Li-ion

Problems: Volume expansion up to 80%, causing mechanical stress. Unwanted reactions with electrolytes. Poor conductivity and poor stability at higher temperatures

Variations: Many different variations exist, including using graphite/graphene, and silicon in the chemistry

Vanadium flow batteries

Catholyte: Vanadium

Anolyte: Vanadium

Promise: Using vanadium ions in different oxidation states to store chemical potential energy at scale. Can be expanded simply by using larger electrolyte tanks

Problems: Poor energy-to-volume ratio. Very heavy, must be used in stationary applications

Variations: Scientists are experimenting with other flow battery chemistries as well, such as zinc-bromine

Battery series conclusion

While the future of battery technology is very exciting, for the near and medium terms scientists are mainly focused on improving the already-commercialized lithium-ion.

What does the battery market look like 15 to 20 years from now? It’s ultimately hard to say. However, it’s likely that some of the above new technologies will help in leading the charge to a 100% renewable future.

Thanks for taking a look at the Battery Series.

See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

Posted with permission of Visual Capitalist.

NRG Metals expands size of potential lithium option in Argentina, resumes trading

February 21st, 2017

by Greg Klein | February 21, 2017

NRG Metals TSXV:NGZ resumed TSXV activity February 21, following the expansion of its Carachi Pampa option and completion of a 43-101 technical report. The company has also applied for a drill permit for the Argentinian lithium prospect, now increased from 6,387 hectares to 29,182 hectares.

NRG Metals expands size of potential lithium option in Argentina, resumes trading

Now 29,182 hectares in size, Carachi Pampa hosts
a low-resistivity zone that’s open in all directions.

Located about 3,000 metres’ elevation in the Andes, the property sits in the same region as FMC’s Salar del Hombre Muerto lithium mine and Galaxy Resources’ Sal de Vida lithium-potash project, which reached feasibility in 2013. Carachi Pampa has road access within 10 kilometres.

Using a common geophysical approach to finding potential brine zones in Argentina, NRG conducted a vertical electrical survey on the property. Of four zones tested, one showed extremely low resistivity, a characteristic of brine zones. The zone begins at 70 metres in depth and dips to 300 metres, the company stated. At least 150 metres thick, it’s open at depth and in all directions laterally. Awaiting a permit, the company anticipates exploration drilling.

With all figures in American currency, the acquisition comes with an initial price of $172,911 and 100,000 shares. Pending satisfactory exploration results, NRG would pay another $535,000 and 100,000 shares to sign a definitive agreement. Additional payments would bring the total to $6.72 million over 54 months.

Earlier this month NRG completed the spinout of its non-core assets, the Groete gold-copper project in Guyana and the LAB graphite project in Quebec, to Gold Port Resources. The new company will focus on Groete, which has a 2013 inferred resource that used a 0.22 g/t gold-equivalent cutoff:

  • 74.8 million tonnes averaging 0.49 g/t gold and 0.12% copper, or 0.66 g/t gold-equivalent, for 1.59 million gold-equivalent ounces

LAB sits adjacent and contiguous to Lac des Iles, the largest of North America’s two flake graphite mines.

NRG closed an oversubscribed private placement of C$1.51 million in December.

Visual Capitalist: China leading the charge for lithium-ion megafactories

February 17th, 2017

by Jeff Desjardins | posted with permission of Visual Capitalist | February 17, 2017

China leading the charge for lithium-ion megafactories

The Chart of the Week is a Friday feature from Visual Capitalist.

 

Tesla’s Gigafactory 1 has been a centre of attention for people interested in the growing momentum behind green energy, electric cars and battery production. Therefore, it is no surprise that this facility was in the news again last month, with Tesla starting to mass-produce batteries as it ramps up to its goal of 35 GWh of capacity and beyond.

However, as exciting as this project is, it’s actually just one of multiple large-scale “megafactories” being built—with many of them being in China.

China leading the charge

We talked to Simon Moores, managing director at Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, who explained that Tesla isn’t alone or unique in its ambitions to build lithium-ion batteries at scale:

While the Tesla Gigafactory is vitally important from an EV vertical integration perspective, the majority of new lithium-ion battery capacity is being built in China. Some of these plants are expected to be huge, such as the CATL facility at 50 GWh—there is little doubt that China’s lithium-ion industry has come of age.

Contemporary Amperex Technology Ltd (CATL) has plans to build the largest lithium-ion megafactory of all—but the company is little known in North America. It’s already worth $11.5 billion and could be a dominant force globally in the battery sector if it successfully increases its lithium-ion production capacity six-fold to 50 GWh by the year 2020.

Other Chinese manufacturers are on a similar trajectory. Panasonic, LG Chem and Boston Power are building new megafactory plants in China, while companies such as Samsung and BYD are expanding existing ones. Lithium-ion plants in China currently have a total capacity of 16.4 GWh—but by 2020, they will combine for a total of 107.5 GWh.

Capacity by country

This ramp-up in China means that the country will have 62% of the world’s lithium-ion battery production capacity by 2020.

There are only three other players in the megafactory game: United States, South Korea and Poland.

  2016 capacity (GWh) 2020 capacity (GWh) % of global total (2020)
Total 27.9 173.5 100%
United States 1.0 38.0 22%
China 16.4 107.5 62%
Korea 10.5 23.0 13%
Poland 0.0 5.0 3%

Above estimates on battery capacity courtesy of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence.

Posted with permission of Visual Capitalist.

Visual Capitalist: Lithium—the fuel of the green revolution

February 14th, 2017

by Jeff Desjardins | posted with permission of Visual Capitalist | February 14, 2017

Lithium: The fuel of the green revolution

Lithium: The fuel of the green revolution

The world is shifting greener.

And while people have long wanted electric cars and inexpensive solar power, the reality is that until recently battery technology just wasn’t good enough to store energy on an economical or practical basis.

Things have changed and the green revolution has been kickstarted by battery power. The commercialization of the lithium-ion battery has solved a crucial green energy problem for two major reasons that can be related back to the properties of lithium:

1. Lithium has extremely high electrochemical potential, and so do lithium-ion cells:

Battery cell Typical Voltage
Lithium-ion (Cobalt) 3.6V
Lead acid 2.0V
NiMH 1.2V
NiCd 1.2V

This means one lithium-ion cell can do more—making it much more efficient to use in everything from electronics to energy storage.

2. Lithium is also the lightest metal on the periodic table. Batteries need to be as light as possible, especially in electric cars.

How lithium gets used

2001

Many years ago, lithium was used chiefly for a variety of industrial purposes. Major sources of lithium demand included ceramics, glass, aluminum production, lubricants and as a catalyst for rubber production.

2015

In modern times, with the commercialization of the lithium-ion, batteries are now the major source of demand for lithium at 39%.

2025

According to a report by Deutsche Bank, in 2025 the battery market for lithium alone will be more than two times bigger than the total lithium market today. About 70% of all lithium will go to electric vehicles, e-bikes, traditional batteries and energy storage, making it the uncontested fuel of the green revolution.

Major lithium drivers

Lithium-ion battery demand is primarily driven by rapid growth in the electric vehicle market, which is expected to make up 35% of all vehicle demand by 2040. But renewable energy storage also plays a role in driving lithium demand. With solar and wind energy being installed at a rapid pace, that means more batteries must be procured to store this energy. This can be done for a home system with a product like Tesla’s Powerwall 2.0 and it is being done on a utility scale as well.

Two types of lithium

Prices for lithium have skyrocketed in the last two years and it is worth knowing the two different types of lithium used by the market.

Lithium carbonate:

This is the first chemical in the production chain and as a result sells for less than lithium hydroxide. It can be used as cathode material in some batteries such as the Nissan Leaf, where it is used in an LMO with NMC formulation (lithium manganese oxide/nickel manganese cobalt oxide chemistries).

Lithium hydroxide:

This is a byproduct of lithium carbonate, created by a metathesis reaction with calcium hydroxide. It can be used to produce cathode material more efficiently and is actually necessary for some types of cathodes. It’s used in the Tesla Powerwall and Model S, for example.

Lithium mining

There are two basic ways to extract lithium: from brine or from hard rock. The latter mainly consists of spodumene production.

Brine deposits represent about 66% of global lithium resources and are found mainly in the salt flats of Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, China and Tibet. The most famous area for lithium is known as the Lithium Triangle, located on the border between Chile, Argentina and Bolivia. Salar de Atacama, the world’s third-largest salt flat, resides on the Chilean side and contains about 50% of global reserves.

The largest lithium producers in 2015 were Chile (37%) and Australia (33%). Argentina is the only other double-digit producer at 11%.

Lithium is fuelling the green revolution

Here’s the estimated amount of lithium that can be found in everyday items using lithium-ion batteries:

  • Tesla Model S: 51 kg
  • Electric vehicles: 10-63 kg
  • Tesla Powerwall 2.0: 10 kg
  • Hybrids: 0.8 kg to 2 kg
  • Power tool batteries: 40-60 g
  • Laptops: 30-40 g
  • Tablets: 20-30 g
  • Mobile phones: 2-3 g

Posted with permission of Visual Capitalist.

Voltaic Minerals and Equitorial Exploration JV on Utah lithium project

January 27th, 2017

by Greg Klein | January 27, 2017

In a joint venture announced January 27, two explorers will pool their resources on a lithium brine property in Utah’s Paradox Basin. Subject to exchange approval, Voltaic Minerals TSXV:VLT and Equitorial Exploration TSXV:EXX will split costs 50/50 to advance Voltaic’s Green Energy project.

Voltaic Minerals and Equitorial Exploration JV on Utah lithium project

The deal has Equitorial investing $250,000 in a private placement that Voltaic is offering up to $900,000. Equitorial will also reserve five million of its shares to be issued to Voltaic on successful production of Green Energy lithium.

Voltaic is currently working to close an agreement with Enertrex Corp, which would create a proprietary method of lithium extraction and a possible marketing program for the process. Phase I could begin next month, with initial results expected within 90 days of signing the agreement.

Last month Voltaic completed a review of historic data, verifying that brine flow in five oil and gas exploration wells on the 1,683-hectare property originated from multiple sources including four of the property’s clastic units.

In October Equitorial released sample results from its Li lithium property, which hosts the Little Nahanni pegmatite group, in the Northwest Territories. The assays followed channel samples announced the previous month.

The two companies plan to search for additional lithium brine projects to advance on a 50/50 JV basis.

Read more about Voltaic Minerals.

92 Resources files 43-101 for NWT lithium project, outlines 2017 plans

January 24th, 2017

by Greg Klein | January 24, 2017

Crediting itself with a successful 2016, 92 Resources TSXV:NTY greeted the new year with a 43-101 technical report for its Hidden Lake lithium project and outlined plans for two other “new energy” properties. Besides the Northwest Territories’ Hidden Lake, the company holds the Pontax lithium property in northern Quebec and the Golden frac sand property in southeastern British Columbia.

92 Resources files 43-101 for NWT lithium project, outlines 2017 plans

With sample bags ready for the lab, a
geologist documents the Hidden Lake project.

Last year’s channel sampling at the Hidden Lake flagship tested four of at least six known lithium-bearing spodumene dykes, with the 308 samples averaging 1.03% Li2O. Forty-nine channels averaged over 0.5%, with the average grade and length for the 49 coming to 1.16% over 5.29 metres. One sample hit a peak of 3.31% Li2O.

Encouraged by the results, the report’s author proposed a ground magnetics survey, along with liquid separation and flotation tests to confirm samples are suitable for producing a spodumene concentrate. Should work prove successful, the next phase would call for drilling and further metallurgy.

The 1,659-hectare property has both helicopter access and an all-weather road connection to Yellowknife, 45 kilometres southwest.

The 5,536-hectare Pontax property, in a district known for spodumene-bearing pegmatites and geology favourable to gold occurrences, has initial exploration expected this year. The company also intends to develop opportunities around its 808-hectare Golden frac sand property, adjacent to Heemskirk Canada’s Moberly silica mine.

92 Resources raised a total of $1.49 million last year.

A 2016 retrospect

December 20th, 2016

Was it the comeback year for commodities—or just a tease?

by Greg Klein

Some say optimism was evident early in the year, as the trade shows and investor conferences began. Certainly as 2016 progressed, so did much of the market. Commodities, some of them anyway, picked up. In a lot of cases, so did valuations. The crystal ball of the industry’s predictionariat often seemed to shine a rosier tint. It must have been the first time in years that people actually stopped saying, “I think we’ve hit bottom.”

But it would have been a full-out bull market if every commodity emulated lithium.

By February Benchmark Mineral Intelligence reported the chemical’s greatest-ever price jump as both hydroxide and carbonate surpassed $10,000 a tonne, a 47% increase for the latter’s 2015 average. The Macquarie Group later cautioned that the Big Four of Albermarle NYSE:ALB, FMC Corp NYSE:FMC, SQM NYSE:SQM and Talison Lithium had been mining significantly below capacity and would ramp up production to protect market share.

Was this the comeback year for commodities—or just a tease?

That they did, as new supply was about to come online from sources like Galaxy Resources’ Mount Cattlin mine in Western Australia, which began commissioning in November. The following month Orocobre TSX:ORL announced plans to double output from its Salar de Olaroz project in Argentina. Even Bolivia sent a token 9.3 tonnes to China, suggesting the mining world’s outlaw finally intends to develop its lithium deposits, estimated to be the world’s largest at 22% of global potential.

Disagreeing with naysayers like Macquarie and tracking at least 12 Li-ion megafactories being planned, built or expanded to gigawatt-hour capacity by 2020, Benchmark in December predicted further price increases for 2017.

Obviously there was no keeping the juniors out of this. Whether or not it’s a bubble destined to burst, explorers snapped up prospects, issuing news releases at an almost frantic flow that peaked in mid-summer. Acquisitions and early-stage activity often focused on the western U.S., South America’s Lithium Triangle and several Canadian locations too.

In Quebec’s James Bay region, Whabouchi was subject of a feasibility update released in April. Calling the development project “one of the richest spodumene hard rock lithium deposits in the world, both in volume and grade,” Nemaska Lithium TSX:NMX plans to ship samples from its mine and plant in Q2 2017.

A much more despairing topic was cobalt, considered by some observers to be the energy metal to watch. At press time instability menaced the Democratic Republic of Congo, which produces an estimated 60% of global output. Far overshadowing supply-side concerns, however, was the threat of a humanitarian crisis triggered by president Joseph Kabila’s refusal to step down at the end of his mandate on December 20.

Was this the comeback year for commodities—or just a tease?

But the overall buoyant market mood had a practical basis in base metals, led by zinc. In June prices bounced back from the six-year lows of late last year to become “by far the best-performing LME metal,” according to Reuters. Two months later a UBS spokesperson told the news agency refiners were becoming “panicky.”

Mine closures in the face of increasing demand for galvanized steel and, later in the year, post-U.S. election expectations of massive infrastructure programs, pushed prices 80% above the previous year. They then fell closer to 70%, but remained well within levels unprecedented over the last five years. By mid-December one steelmaker told the Wall Street Journal to expect “a demand explosion.”

Lead lagged, but just for the first half of 2016. Spot prices had sunk to about 74 cents a pound in early June, when the H2 ascension began. Reaching an early December peak of about $1.08, the highest since 2013, the metal then slipped beneath the dollar mark.

Copper lay at or near five-year lows until November, when a Trump-credited surge sent the red metal over 60% higher, to about $2.54 a pound. Some industry observers doubted it would last. But columnist Andy Home dated the rally to October, when the Donald was expected to lose. Home attributed copper’s rise to automated trading: “Think the copper market equivalent of Skynet, the artificial intelligence network that takes over the world in the Terminator films.” While other markets have experienced the same phenomenon, he maintained, it’s probably the first, but not the last time for a base metal.

Was this the comeback year for commodities—or just a tease?

Nickel’s spot price started the year around a piddling $3.70 a pound. But by early December it rose to nearly $5.25. That still compared poorly with 2014 levels well above $9 and almost $10 in 2011. Nickel’s year was characterized by Indonesia’s ban on exports of unprocessed metals and widespread mine suspensions in the Philippines, up to then the world’s biggest supplier of nickel ore.

More controversial for other reasons, Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte began ordering suspensions shortly after his June election. His environmental secretary Regina Lopez then exhorted miners to surpass the world’s highest environmental standards, “better than Canada, better than Australia. We must be better and I know it can be done.”

Uranium continued to present humanity with a dual benefit—a carbon-free fuel for emerging middle classes and a cautionary example for those who would predict the future. Still oblivious to optimistic forecasts, the recalcitrant metal scraped a post-Fukushima low of $18 in December before creeping to $20.25 on the 19th. The stuff fetched around $72 a pound just before the 2011 tsunami and hit $136 in 2007.

Voltaic Minerals project manager Thomas Currin discusses a selective extraction process for lithium

December 15th, 2016

…Read more

Voltaic Minerals verifies brine flow, works towards bulk sampling on Utah lithium project

December 12th, 2016

by Greg Klein | December 12, 2016

A thorough review of historic data confirms brine flow on Voltaic Minerals’ (TSXV:VLT) Green Energy lithium project in Utah’s Paradox Basin. Analysis shows that brine flow in five oil and gas exploration wells originated from multiple sources including four of the property’s clastic units.

Voltaic Minerals verifies brine flow, works towards bulk sampling on Utah lithium project

Already figuring prominently in a 3D model created earlier by Voltaic, clastic unit #14 was historically intercepted in three wells at an average depth of about 1,900 metres and measured 6.1 metres thick.

To follow up, Voltaic hopes to re-open historic well heads for bulk sampling, potentially confirming a lithium-bearing zone, as well as verifying brine data including flow rates, temperature and metallurgy.

Historic data reports brine carrying lithium up to 187 milligrams per litre on the 1,683-hectare property and up to 1,700 mg/l 150 metres east.

The company also continues its work with newly appointed director/project manager Thomas Currin and Enertrex Corp to develop a selective lithium extraction process that would cut time and costs, with a plan to market the process to other companies.

Read more about Voltaic Minerals.

Lithium: from brine to market

November 29th, 2016

Voltaic Minerals aims to simplify extraction and commercialize the process

by Greg Klein

Cost of production and timeline to market—those are critical issues for any project in the increasingly crowded lithium space. And that’s what attracted Thomas Currin to Voltaic Minerals TSXV:VLT. The newly appointed director/project manager sees the company’s Green Energy project in Utah’s Paradox Basin as highly prospective for creating a selective extraction process that would address both challenges. With Currin on board, Voltaic hopes not only to develop a successful project but to market the process to other companies.

“Some people like to classify lithium as a commodity, but it’s a specialty chemical,” Currin explains. “In the specialty chemical business you don’t separate R&D and process development from manufacturing. A good specialty chemical company is one that’s been able to integrate all those applications.

Voltaic Minerals wants to simplify extraction and commercialize the process

“I’m a chemical engineer who’s been in the manufacturing process in the lithium field for 35 years,” he adds. “With a manufacturing process background everything is about opex and capex, and how to optimize both.”

Having managed lithium extraction projects in Chile, Peru, Mexico, Canada and the U.S., he’s worked for FMC Lithium, Li3 Energy, his own company Limtech Technologies and currently Enertrex Corp, which signed an MOU with Voltaic late last month.

As technical consultant for Enertrex he’s been working with two PhDs on selective removal of specific minerals from wastewater streams and geothermal brines. “We’ve come up with a technology that can extract lithium selectively, so we were looking for a project that could commercialize our technology. I’ve seen pretty much every lithium project in the world over the last 10 to 15 years, and what attracted me to Voltaic and the Paradox Basin are the oil and gas wells in a Basin that also has lithium salts and potassium salts.”

Located about 965 kilometres from the Tesla Motors Gigafactory and close to road, rail, power and the Intrepid Potash NYSE:IPI Cane Creek solution mine, the 1,683-hectare Green Energy property underwent oil and gas drilling during the 1960s. Historic analysis of regional drilling showed lithium in saturated brines grading 81 mg to 174 mg per litre.

“Here’s a project with historic wells, historic data, a few kilometres from a facility producing potash which is a very similar salt to lithium, and a company that realizes that time to market is critical.

“It seemed like a perfect match, the place to do process development work in parallel with resource development and demonstrate Enertrex’s lithium-specific process. If we could remove the lithium economically, we could market it to other lithium projects. The technology would be a paradigm-shifter.”

After evaluating historic data, Voltaic plans to re-perforate some of the wells and draw samples. While the company evaluates Green Energy’s resource potential, Currin will study the concentrations of lithium and impurities like magnesium, calcium and boron to develop the processing chemistry.

That’s what we’re taking advantage of—existing technologies, proven systems that we can re-configure to extract the lithium from a saturated impurity stream. With all the other technologies, you have to remove all the impurities before you extract the lithium. That’s a tremendous cost.—Thomas Currin,
director/project manager
for Voltaic Minerals

“Sampling traditionally takes 20-litre amounts, but our first sample will be 20,000 litres so we can start processing it,” he explains. “Our money will be invested in developing not only a 43-101 resource but also a process by which we can be competitive.”

Call it optimistic or aggressive, Voltaic believes a property of merit could potentially offer customers a 100-kilogram sample of lithium carbonite within 14 months. Plans call for three 90-day testing phases into H2 of next year, when work would overlap with pilot-scale processing.

“This isn’t my first rodeo,” Currin notes.

With Limtech he developed a selective process to extract and concentrate silica from geothermal brines, which won the company a 2016 Outstanding Partnership Regional Award from the U.S. Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer.

He’s also worked on selective lithium-ion exchange resins with FMC and, in his client project work, evaluated the use of several lithium-selective solvent exchange systems.

“The membrane technology for de-salinization has become much more economical, that technology has blossomed in the last 10 years, and that’s what we’re taking advantage of—existing technologies, proven systems that we can re-configure to extract the lithium from a saturated impurity stream. With all the other technologies, you have to remove all the impurities before you extract the lithium. That’s a tremendous cost.”

In addition to replacing the lengthy solar evaporation stage, the process would feature a modular design that could speed progress from pilot plant to production. With Green Energy’s existing wells, the project’s fast-track potential looks good, he maintains.

Should success be achieved there, the process could be applied to deposits with different metallurgy, making the technique marketable to other companies.

“Chilean brines are the most cost-effective sources of lithium in the world,” he says. “But there’s growing demand for sources outside South America. Our selective extraction process could help other projects compete with the Lithium Triangle.”