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EL DORADO, Ark. (AP) — Standard Lithium Ltd., the Canadian company with big plans to tap south Arkansas’ underground brine stream to extract battery-grade lithium, is ramping up testing at a pilot crystallization plant in British Columbia and gaining provisional approval for a pilot extraction operation west of El Dorado that could be in place as early as late February.

Standard, of Vancouver, has completed a plant to test its proprietary selective crystallization process, designed to refine battery-quality lithium from a solution extracted from brine, in partnership with Saltworks Technologies Inc. of Richmond, British Columbia.

The technology in the pilot plant, if successful, could end up refining extracts pulled from South Arkansas brine, which was found to hold strong concentration of lithium carbonate in tests of saltwater from two previously drilled oil and gas wells in south Arkansas.

Lithium, a valuable element used in everything from cellphone and laptop batteries to the systems of electric automobiles, could be a boon for Arkansas’ economy if the publicly traded Canadian company, which has partnered in brine leases near El Dorado and Magnolia, can prove its ability to refine battery-grade lithium at an industrial scale.

The prototype pilot plant, which is undergoing commissioning for operation now, will be operated initially at Saltworks Technologies’ Richmond facility. Standard Lithium CEO Robert Mintak said the ultimate goal is to extract the lithium and then refine it, all in Arkansas.

He added that the Arkansas Oil & Gas Commission is giving his company a chance to prove its process by operating the pilot extraction plant with a waiver.

“The purpose is to prove that we can extract lithium with our selective extraction plan, and then produce battery-grade material in Arkansas,” Mintak told Arkansas Business in a recent telephone conversation. “The purpose is to have everything in Arkansas,” with the pilot extraction technology in place in the first half of 2019.

“That plant is going to be moved to Arkansas probably in late February or early March,” Mintak said. “That’s the extraction pilot plant. The pilot plant in Richmond, on the other hand, is a plant that converts the extracted lithium solution into a final battery material. We’ve developed our own process to crystallize lithium carbonate, and we feel our own process may be an improvement, but we’re going to be working with some other industry partners that have crystallizers in use around the world. We’ll be testing our own process along with others.”

Saltworks CEO and chief engineer Ben Sparrow said in a statement that if Standard Lithium likes the results it sees at the pilot plant in Canada, “we are ready to rapidly deliver a mobile fully continuous plant and support Standard Lithium to commercialize this high-potential technology.”

Mintak has cited Arkansas’ regulatory environment, as well as its vast supply of mineral-dense brine, as factors that led Standard Lithium to Arkansas.

“We had a meeting with the Oil & Gas Commission a week ago and gave a presentation to proceed with a waiver,” Mintak said. “There is not a royalty set as yet for lithium in Arkansas, so they’re allowing us to prove the extraction process works as we operate the pilot plant. Then as we get data on that we’ll start working with them on the royalty regime.”

Standard Lithium is listed on Canada’s TSC Venture exchange under the trading symbol SLL and on the OTCQX under the symbol STLHF. It is also traded in Europe on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange.

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