Lithium Producer in Central Alberta Aims for Net-Zero Facility
Chris Doornbos has always been interested in energy systems, but it was hard to find opportunities in clean energy for geologists like him. Until he started thinking about lithium.
Lithium – soft, silvery-white alkali metal, similar to potassium or sodium – is one of the main components of batteries, and a crucial resource for the energy storage industry.
In 2014, Chris began looking for lithium projects, first in South America, which supplies about 75 per cent of the world’s lithium, as well as in the U.S. and Australia. Then, he came across a report from the Government of Alberta about lithium, and discovered the availability of an unexplored, underappreciated asset right in his own backyard.
“The ground wasn’t owned by anyone, so we went in and picked it up,” said Doornbos, who went on to found a lithium development company, now known as E3 Metals Corp, where he is the CEO. “We have literally developed this project from nothing.”
The Leduc Formation was first explored for oil and gas in the 1940s and led to the oil rush in central Alberta. Over the past 70 years, more than 3,000 wells have been drilled in the area. Because of the existing wells – as well as collaborative relationships with other companies working in Leduc Formation reservoirs – no further drilling or land disturbance has been needed for E3 Metals to develop their lithium project.
“As a mineral company, the biggest expense you have is drilling and we haven’t needed to do that,” said Doornbos.
Based on their sampling, the company estimates there is 6.7 million tonnes of lithium in the reservoirs of the Leduc Formation, making it one of the largest sources of lithium in the world.
The standard process for extracting and producing lithium relies on huge evaporation ponds, taking 18 to 24 months to concentrate lithium to a point where it can be refined. What makes E3 Metals unique is that, using a chemical filter process called Ion Exchange, they have developed a method to concentrate lithium in only three hours. Not only is it fast, it is also likely inexpensive compared to the evaporation process, and removes 99 per cent of the impurities found in lithium brine.
In addition to speed, the lithium brine extracted is hot, and could be used to produce geothermal power to run the process. E3 Metals hopes to make their facility net-zero, and in doing so create the an environmentally friendly source of lithium.
“We have the potential to be a near zero-greenhouse-gas lithium producer,” said Doornbos.
The company is still in the development stage, to date achieving a 20x concentration in lithium with their process. They hope to soon have a demonstration of this process and then plan to build a pilot plant facility in the field this year.
With an increase in electric vehicles and energy storage, global lithium demand is expected to triple by 2025.
“Decentralized energy is the future,” said Doornbos. “And that will need efficient batteries.”