In the previous article, Direct lithium extraction: a potential solution to the lithium supply crisis (Part 1/2), we outlined what direct lithium extraction (DLE) is, how it works, and how it can alleviate a potential supply crisis.
This article will cover the DLE companies, both Australian and international, that are currently using or aiming to use DLE.
An overview of some notable DLE companies:
Lilac is a Californian-based private company backed by Breakthrough Energy Ventures, helmed by Bill Gates. Investors in the Venture Fund include Jeff Bezos, Jack Ma, Richard Branson, and Warren Buffet, among others.
Lilac Technology revolutionises the lithium industry by using disruptive ion-exchange technology to accelerate brine development from years to hours. This energy and water-efficient process extracts lithium from brine without evaporation ponds, yielding lithium chloride for further processing into high-purity lithium carbonate or lithium hydroxide, which is sold to battery makers worldwide. They currently partner with ASX-listed lithium explorer Lake Resources (ASX:LKE) at their flagship Kachi Project in Argentina’s Catamarca Province, at the southern end of the Lithium Triangle.
Founded in 2018 by Teague Egan, EnergyX is a technology company dedicated to clean energy, specialising in disruptive technologies that harness the power of lithium and batteries to create a sustainable future.
EnergyX’s product, LiTAS™ (Lithium-Ion Transport and Separation), is a comprehensive suite of lithium selective and processing mechanisms. It utilises proprietary membranes, solvents, and adsorbents to enhance lithium recovery for both current and future lithium-brine resource producers.
EnergyX has developed a suite of DLE technologies that can be used in combination to treat any brine type.
Sunresin New Materials (SHE:300487):
Sunresin is a solution provider involved in the entire process from brine to finished lithium products. With over 10 years of experience, they have executed nine commercial contracts for DLE, totalling 73,000 tonnes per annum.
Their technology combines adsorption and membrane separation, enabling the extraction of high-purity lithium carbonate from lean ore brine with significant economic and environmental advantages. They partner with Anson Resources (ASX:ASN), where the company will utilise Sunresin’s direct lithium extraction technology to produce battery-grade carbonate at the Paradox lithium project in Utah.
Summit Nanotech utilises its patented technology to extract lithium from salar brines while preserving the integrity of the aquifer. The company’s unique process allows for the extraction of lithium while enabling the remaining brine to be reinjected back into the reservoir. This innovative approach ensures that the aquifer’s integrity is maintained while obtaining valuable lithium resources.
International Battery Metals (CNSX:IBAT):
IBAT has achieved a groundbreaking milestone by becoming the world’s first company to successfully develop and implement Mobile, Modular Direct Lithium Extraction (MDLE) technology on a commercial scale.
Their patented extraction technology surpasses traditional methods by recovering a higher quantity of lithium from brine, all while exhibiting remarkable environmental performance. In addition, IBAT’s technology boasts a significantly shorter deployment time and lower cost compared to conventional lithium mining models.
POSCO is a South Korean steel-making company headquartered in Pohang, South Korea. The company has announced its intentions to increase its lithium production capacity in both Korea and Argentina. The company plans to establish a LiOH conversion plant in Korea and extract lithium from the Salar del Hombre Muerto in Argentina, aiming to achieve a production capacity of 220,000 tonnes per annum by the year 2030. In addition, POSCO has set a goal to raise its annual cathode production capacity to 100,000 tonnes by 2023. While their plans for direct lithium extraction (DLE) have been somewhat shrouded in secrecy, it is evident that POSCO is actively engaged in this area. As of 2021, POSCO boasts a low price-to-earnings ratio of 3.60, indicating a potentially undervalued stock, along with a dividend yield of 5.60%. Analysts have set a consensus price target of KRW 436,500 for the company. It is worth noting that POSCO currently generates the majority of its revenue from steel-making operations, which are currently being affected by issues related to China’s property sector.
Adionics is a private French company established in 2012 following extensive research, aiming to become a leading provider of technology for the utilisation of saline water.
Their innovative DLE technology involves the development of a highly selective extractant composition called Flionex, enabling the extraction of lithium salts. Unlike traditional methods with extraction yields of 35 to 60%, Adionics’ DLE technology achieves impressive lithium extraction yields ranging from 85 to 99%. Additionally, Adionics’ DLE solution is capable of treating brines containing solubilised organics. This technology utilises liquid-liquid extraction techniques to produce a purified and concentrated lithium chloride brine.
E3 Lithium (CVE:ETL):
E3 Lithium is a lithium resource and technology company focused on producing lithium products to support the growing electric revolution. Based in Alberta, the company draws on the expertise of the mature oil industry to drive its development.
The Clearwater Project, supported by E3’s Preliminary Economic Assessment, demonstrates significant value, with a Net Present Value (NPV8%) of USD $820 million after tax and a pre-tax value of USD $1.1 billion (NPV8%). The project boasts an Internal Rate of Return (IRR) of 27% after tax and 32% pre-tax.
Utilising their DLE technology, E3 Lithium achieves over 90% recovery of lithium while substantially increasing its concentration and reducing impurities by over 98%. With plans to scale up their DLE technology for commercialisation, E3 Lithium aims to produce high-purity, battery-grade lithium products. The company’s abundant lithium resources and innovative technological solutions position it as a potential supplier of lithium from one of the world’s leading jurisdictions. In line with their vision for a sustainable energy future, E3 Lithium is committed to delivering lithium products with reduced carbon emissions and a minimal environmental footprint. Their projects utilise less than 3% of the land typically required for lithium projects and do not involve tailings or evaporative ponds.
Lithium Companies Engaging in Trials for DLE:
CleanTech Lithium (AIM:CTL):
CleanTech Lithium is an exploration and development company at the forefront of advancing sustainable lithium projects in Chile. With plans to be listed on the ASX by the year’s end, CleanTech Lithium is dedicated to shaping the next generation of eco-friendly lithium solutions.
Founded in the fourth quarter of 2017, CleanTech Lithium has secured licence rights over three prominent lithium projects located in the esteemed lithium triangle, the world’s centre for battery-grade lithium production.
At the core of CleanTech Lithium’s strategy is the utilisation of DLE, which will be used on the projects through their partnership with Sunresin New Materials.
Commenting on the operations, Chief Executive Officer Aldo Boitano stated: “CleanTech Lithium’s mission is to be the leading supplier of green lithium for the transition to electric vehicles. We aim to be 100% powered by renewable energy once in production, utilising Chile’s renewable energy capacity near our projects. Using DLE and renewable energy to power the process will represent a major improvement in the sustainability of lithium sourcing and extraction in Chile, and we believe this will create a market advantage for a premium lithium product.”
Lake Resources (ASX:LKE, GR:LK1, OTCQB:LLKKF):
As previously stated, lithium explorer Lake Resources uses Lilac Solutions’ DLE technology at their flagship Kachi Project, located in Argentina’s Catamarca Province at the southern end of the Lithium Triangle, a world-renowned province responsible for 40% of global lithium production.
Utilising Lilac’s DLE technology, Lake aims to produce a sustainable and high-purity lithium carbonate product at the Kachi project, attracting premium pricing from battery and cathode manufacturers.
The environmentally friendly DLE process ensures nearly all the water (brine) is returned to its source, providing the EV and battery industry with a reliable and sustainable source of high-quality lithium for their supply chains.
Lake’s goal is to complete a definitive feasibility study by December 2023, allowing for enhanced project definition, optimal power solutions, and infrastructure considerations in alignment with the expanding resource base and project reassessment outcomes.
Vulcan Energy Resources (ASX:VUL):
Vulcan Energy Resources is engaged in the exploration and development of geothermal and lithium resources in Europe and Australia.
Its Zero Carbon Lithium™ Project uses DLE and draws on naturally occurring, renewable geothermal energy to power the lithium extraction process and create a renewable energy by-product. *One tonne of lithium hydroxide produced through our process requires:
Anson Resources (ASX:ASN):
Anson Resources is an Australian-based exploration and development company focused on the Paradox Lithium Project in the Paradox Basin in southern Utah. Anson Resources uses Sunresin’s DLE technology at the Paradox Lithium Project.
Livent Corp (NYSE:LTHM):
Livent Corporation operates as a prominent company in the lithium technology sector. Both Fenix Expansions 1 and 2 by Livent are currently leveraging their DLE technology, whereas Expansion 3 employs traditional brine ponds for its operations. The company is poised to merge with its rival, Allkem (NSE: ALKEM), by the conclusion of this year.
Eramet is a French multinational company working on the Centenario-Ratones project, a commercial-scale DLE facility. Phase 1 is under construction, targeting a commissioning of 24,000 tonnes of Lithium Carbonate Equivalent (LCE) in 1Q24, with full ramp-up by mid-2025. The company is also partnering with China’s Tsingshan on a $1.7 billion DLE project in Argentina, aiming to produce 24,000 tonnes of lithium annually starting next year. Eramet believes its own DLE technology is superior to others, after more than a decade of development.
Standard Lithium (TSXV: SLI, NYSE:SLI):
Standard Lithium is a lithium development company that focuses on utilising DLE technology in their projects located in the USA. Their primary lithium extraction projects include the LANXESS JV Project and the SOUTH-WEST ARKANSAS Project, both situated in Southern Arkansas. Additionally, they have the Mojave Project, which is located at the Bristol Dry Lake in the Mojave Desert, California.
Standard Lithium employs their proprietary ‘LiSTR’ DLE process, which involves partnering with existing projects that already produce brine. By leveraging these partnerships, such as the one with the LANXESS Project, where bromine is extracted from brine but not lithium, Standard Lithium integrates their DLE technology to extract lithium. This extraction process yields a high-purity lithium chloride solution that can be further processed into battery-grade lithium carbonate or hydroxide.