A Calgary-based lithium developer poised to start operations at a pilot plant near Olds said the industry’s potential is huge.
E3 Lithium Ltd. president and CEO of E3 Lithium Ltd. Chris Doornbos believes Western Canada is positioned to become a world leader in lithium production in the next few years.
The company has an estimated 24 million tonnes of lithium reserves, just under half of Alberta’s 48 million tonnes, said Doornbos in a webinar for investors, stakeholders, government representatives and media on Thursday.
Doornbos said the company was moving quickly to get to first production as soon as possible and he predicts a strong future.
“We do aim to be a global lithium producer at some point in the future as we grow this project.”
Earlier, E3 announced that after significant progress was made last year the company expects to start up its $4-6 million Lithium Ion-Exchange pilot plant in the third quarter this year. The company says it is in the process of completing the final engineering, design and construction plans for the plant so it can be commissioning equipment this summer.
“The pilot plant will test Li-IX technology for direct lithium extraction at a larger scale under real-world operating conditions,” says the company. “At pilot scale, demonstrating Li-IX technology enables significant de-risking of the commercial design and is a crucial step in unlocking the value of E3’s 24.3 million tonnes of inferred lithium resources.”
Last summer, E3 Lithium Ltd. drilled Alberta’s first brine production wells and purchased another existing well to evaluate lithium potential. Three test wells tapped into the Leduc aquifer, which runs from Calgary to Edmonton 2.5 km below the surface, in the Torrington-Olds area.
The results showed high — and importantly for production purposes — consistent levels of lithium across the aquifer. E3 Lithium has developed a process to remove lithium from the brine and refine it to the ultra-pure quality suitable for batteries.
E3 Lithium has already applied to the Alberta Energy Regulator for the necessary licences, which are expected to be approved by the summer.
“The pilot plant is a major milestone for the company, and we are extremely excited about the progress we’ve made towards constructing and operating it this year,” said Doornbos in a statement. “Demonstrating the Li-IX extraction technology in the field advances the company significantly towards delivering battery grade lithium to market; it’s the paradigm shift needed for E3 to move towards our lithium plant design and eventual production.”
The pilot plant will consist of two main parts, says the company. The first part involves equipment to move the Leduc brine water from the aquifer and perform the necessary pre-treatment required for the Li-IX extraction process.
The second part is the process equipment that houses the ion-exchange medium that manages the extraction of the lithium from the Leduc brine and generates the concentrated lithium fluid. The pilot is designed to test several lithium extraction systems to define the optimal commercial design.
E3 will continue to provide updates on its field pilot throughout 2023. It was financed partly through a $1.8 million Alberta Innovates grant and the federal government’s Strategic Innovation Fund, which can reimburse up to one-third of the cost of the pilot plant.