Alberta is at the forefront of an emerging industry potentially worth billions – mining ancient saltwater deposits, known as lithium brine, instead of traditional solid rock for lithium. This versatile element, primarily used in rechargeable batteries, also finds application in ordinary commodities such as glass cooktops.
Starting a noteworthy chapter in its journey, E3 Lithium, based out of Calgary, recently set the wheels in motion towards lithium extraction from liquid brine reserves deep underground near Olds, Alta.
As per E3 Lithium CEO, Chris Doornbos, projects in the offing are now approaching their developmental culmination, thereby marking significant headway concerning commercial viability. He mentions, “A few projects are beginning to establish a commercial direct extraction facility.”
The ensuing decade is believed to usher in a boom in this blossoming sector. As per predictions by AER, the federal government, and businesses, the much-anticipated lithium tapped from liquid brine – of which a significant chunk is located in Alberta – would substantially enhance Canada’s projected 3.2 million tonnes of conventional rock-based reserves.
Upon reaching full operating capacity and commencing lithium export for refining, Doornbos forecasts the plant to provide full-time employment to 160 people, a figure that doesn’t account for the facility’s construction-related jobs.
As per Doornbos’ initial plan, “We intend to produce somewhere between 20 and 30 thousand tonnes of lithium hydroxide, likely to be operational by the end of 2026.”
Whilst it might not suffice to challenge the global behemoths in Australia and South America, both the industry and the government are recognizing the budding potential of this sector and its expected contribution to the future economy.
Energy and Minerals Minister Brian Jean expresses optimism about the prospective rise of this new industry, now that the commercial extraction processes have been substantially validated. Indicating towards the abundance of lithium deposits in Alberta, Jean envisages lithium emerging as one of the primary exports.
From phones to electric vehicles, rechargeable batteries constitute about three-quarters of the global supply of this reactive metal, with an additional 14% being utilized in ceramics and glass.
As part of his last month’s directive to facilitate the industry’s growth, Jean emphasizes the continuance of regulatory approval and expresses a desire for a streamlined permitting process for novel mining and extraction facilities.
Pointing towards the longer timelines resulting from these procedures, Pan American Energy CEO Jason Latkowcer emphasizes the need for quick execution of projects by supporting early-stage exploration.
Pan American Energy specializes in the identification and validation of conventional hard rock and clay deposits.
Contrary to the global practice of extracting lithium using large evaporation ponds, E3’s method primarily involves lithium filtration from geothermal brine existing alongside oil reserves deep beneath the earth. The brine, after extraction of concentrated lithium for further refinement, is re-introduced into the ground, remaining mostly unaltered.
Alberta’s distinct advantage lies not just in the well-documented drill sites but also in its workforce’s proficiency. The skills required for this process closely align with conventional oil production, giving Alberta an edge, for it houses some of the world’s best experts in the field.