Technology

Canadian miners and lithium

 By Andrew Burger

Demand for lithium is rising rapidly in parallel with rapid growth for industrial-grade lithium by electric vehicle (EV) and stationary advanced battery-based energy storage manufacturers, as well as demand on the part of smartphone, wireless/mobile computing, “smart,” connected device and consumer electronics manufacturers…

According to a June 21 financial markets news report, Global X Lithium & Battery Tech, an exchange-traded fund that invests in shares of the 27 biggest companies linked to the so-called light metal, has increased 65 percent in the past 18 months. That’s a rise that outperformed stock indexes of all the world’s most-developed economies, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
MGX Minerals says it has invented a new means of extracting lithium, along with magnesium, silicon, boron and other valuable minerals while at the same time treating the production water used to help extract petroleum from underground reservoirs. Compared to evaporation of brine containing naturally occurring lithium-bearing minerals, the most common means of obtaining lithium, the process is far more efficient and less costly–environmentally as well as economically, according to MGX.

Nanofiltration and nanoflotation

MGX’s cleantech process employs proprietary, patented nanofiltration and nanoflotation materials and processes to separate minerals, heavy metals and hydrocarbons from so-called oil production water, which is pumped to the surface during traditional oil and gas operations. By and large, the production water, or petroleum brine, is considered and treated as a waste byproduct.
Management says the company’s nanofiltration and nanoflotation-based production oil field wastewater processing technology not only extracts lithium, magnesium, boron and other minerals cheaper and quicker than conventional lithium brine evaporation methods, it dramatically reduces the amount of water needed to do so. Moreover, MGX says it treats the wastewater as part of the process, opening up the possibility to reuse it. In April, the Saskatchewan Resources Council independently confirmed the company’s “petrolithium” wastewater extraction process works as advertised.
Evaporation of brine containing naturally occurring salt deposits with high concentrations of lithium is a very water-intensive process, MGX CEO Jared Lazerson explained for Eniday. “Using this method, lithium-bearing brine is pumped up to the ground surface, where it goes through a series of evaporation processes to become precipitated lithium carbonate.”

Wastewater treatment to remove a range of metal contaminants (CSIRO, Wikimedia)

Economic and environmental advantages

One of the world’s largest concentrations of lithium is found high in the Andean sierra, in Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni salt flats. As the Washington Post highlighted in a feature article on lithium brine evaporation: “Concentrating the brine, which contains only traces of lithium, requires burning off lots of water, and even more is needed to wash the finished product. A ton of lithium generally requires as much as 500,000 gallons of water.”
MGX’s method uses less water and is much more efficient, Lazerson said. “Our rapid nanofiltration technology separates lithium in a matter of days rather than months, and it extracts minerals and treats wastewater from petroleum brine that has already been pumped by an oil company. By recovering valuable minerals from an oil industry waste product, the technology can reduce the need to build water-intensive, and sometimes controversial, lithium mining operations.”

Midas Letter Interview with MGX Minerals Inc. CEO Jared Lazerson

Acquiring mineral rights

MGX’s currently owns the rights to extract and process lithium, magnesium, silicon and other minerals from petroleum brine across 58 oil fields in Alberta that span a total some 435,000 hectares, making it the largest lithium brine landholder in Canada, Lazerson told Eniday. It has obtained regulatory permits within 17 sub-properties staked out specifically for their high lithium-brine potential.
More recently, the company purchased access to oil fields and prospective lithium brine reserves in Colorado and in the Paradise Basin in Utah’s Lisbon Valley. In sum, MGX has acquired mineral rights across more than 1.5 million acres throughout North America and has secured partnerships with oil and gas companies to conduct well sampling on their oil fields in order to assess the feasibility of extracting lithium, magnesium and other minerals from wastewater, Lazerson continued.
MGX hasn’t brought lithium carbonate to market yet, but on June 1 it shipped an inaugural batch of lithium chloride 30 percent concentrate to a processor that is analyzing samples to assess their potential to be upgraded to 99 percent lithium carbonate. That could convert them to a form and bring them to a level of purity suitable to process them further, directly to the higher-value lithium hydroxide commonly bought and sold on markets worldwide.

Bringing “petrolithium” to market

On June 27, MGX announced the completion of a 1,000-liter per day “petrolithium” extraction and water treatment system, construction of which was carried out by its engineering partner PurLucid Treatment Solutions. The system is to be used to conduct large-scale tests of bulk water samples from MGX’s petrolithium projects, including those obtained from its Sturgeon Lake, Alberta, and Paradox Basin, Utah, holdings, as well as those of customers and partners with an eye towards deploying commercial, third-party systems.
In addition to making use of its proprietary technology inside the organization, MGX also is manufacturing small commercial petroleum brine lithium, magnesium and minerals extraction plants for licensing or sale to third parties. Concurrent with ongoing lab testing, MGX also is building a 100-cubic meter, 100,000-liter per day pilot system for testing of oilfield wastewater treatment and lithium recovery, as well as a 1,200-cubic meter per day system.
Construction of the former began in early 2017, and the water treatment component required to deliver water of a quality suitable for lithium recovery was completed in early spring. Pilot plant project completion is expected in September.
Totally dependent on mineral concentration and volume, it’s difficult to estimate an average market value for the lithium concentrate, carbonate or hydroxide MGX expects to produce from its prospective mineral rights holdings. That said, Lazerson did say that market values could range anywhere from hundreds of thousands to tens of millions of dollars.

SEE MORE: From the waste come the riches by Chris Dalby

about the author
Andrew Burger
Andrew Burger has been reporting on energy, technology, political economy, climate and the environment for a variety of online media properties for over five years.