A February 19, 2021 article by Pamela Fieber for CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) news online features news of a Calgary (Alberta) company, Summit Nanotech, and a greener way to mine lithium (Note: A link has been removed),
Amanda Hall was on top of a mountain in Tibet when inspiration struck.
“I saw a Tibetan monk reach into his robe and pull out an iPhone,” Hall told the Calgary Eyeopener [CBC radio programme].
“If there’s an iPhone at the top of a mountain in Tibet, where isn’t there an iPhone on this planet? And then it just got me thinking about batteries and battery technology and energy and how we store that energy.”
On her return to Calgary, the accomplished geophysicist began looking into a better, greener way to mine lithium — the essential ingredient in lithium-ion batteries, which power electric cars and smartphones.
This led to her founding the company, Summit Nanotech in 2018 and developing nanotechnology, which works with materials at the molecular or atomic level to selectively filter lithium out of the wasted saltwater brine used in oil wells.
It’s completely different from the way lithium is traditionally mined.
Sarah Offin’s November 12, 2020 article for Global TV News offers insight into the technology developed by Hall’s company (Note: Links have been removed),
Since the downturn in the oil and gas industry, there have been repeated calls for Alberta to diversify its economy. The province invests hundreds of millions of dollars every year to help grow both the tech and green energy sectors, industries that could have a bright future in a province rich with talent.
Amanda Hall is a prime example of that. She was able to draw on her experience in resource extraction with Alberta’s oil and gas industry, developing green technology to be used in energy storage.
Hall developed the only female-led mining technology company in the world: Summit Nanotech Corp. Using nanotechnology, Hall and her team say they have created an improved method of lithium-ion resource extraction from produced brine water.
“We’ve come up with a much more elegant approach — I say, feminine, approach — at bringing a resource out of the ground, and then giving it to the electric vehicle sector,” Hall said.
Using sponges developed through nanoscience, Hall and her team have created technology that will allow producers to extract lithium directly from the wellhead without the need for expansive ponds and toxic chemicals. The process is expected to reduce costs and decrease chemical waste by 90 per cent.
The firm’s website touts that its process is the most “green lithium extraction in the world.”
“The sponge has lithium selective cavities in it, just the exact size of a lithium-ion. And so, as if you put a fluid in against this sponge, it will only suck up lithium, nothing else, and it holds on to it. And then when you wash it, you wash the lithium off the sponge just by changing the environment it’s in. So we don’t have to use any acids,” Hall said.
Hall and her team have spent the last two-and-a-half years in the lab perfecting their design and are now building the company’s first full-scale 12-metre tall unit. “It’s our baby, but it’s huge,” Hall said. “It’s a mini-refinery, essentially.”
That “mini-refinery” will then be sent via shipping container to the first of the company’s three pilot partners: Lithium Chile.
The other two partners are Saskatchewan-based Prairie Lithium and 3 Proton Lithium (3PL) Operating Inc. in Nevada.
For anyone interested in the business and investment aspects (there’s mention of Elon Musk in both stories) check out Fieber’s February 19, 2021 article and Offin’s November 12, 2020 article.
You can find Summit Nanotech here. I found a little more information about the company’s technology on the Lithium webpage,
Direct Lithium Extraction
Summit Nanotech has designed an innovative new method to generate battery grade lithium compounds from brine fluids, named denaLi. This process is the most green lithium extraction technology in the world. Lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide can be sold at market value to supply the growing demand from electric vehicle battery manufacturers.
Interconnected modules using nanoporous membranes in a unique arrangement are synthesized with specific filtration functions. Carbon dioxide is used to initiate end product precipitation. Discrete power generation modules are selected to work together to harvest and store available geothermal, solar, wind, and hydroelectric power from the system’s environment.
Prairie Lithium, the Saskatchewan-based company mentioned in Offin’s article, co-founded a joint venture specifically dedicated to lithium extraction from brine (to begin with) in 2020 according to Jonathan Guignard in a June 3, 2020 article for Global TV news (Note: Links have been removed),
Saskatchewan will soon be home to a new lithium production project.
The Prairie-LiEP Critical Mineral (PLCM) joint venture is being undertaken by Prairie Lithium Corp. and LiEP Energy Ltd [headquarted in Calgary, Alberta].
Their two-stage pilot project will produce lithium hydroxide from some of the province’s oilfield brines.
The first stage of the project is based in Regina and is set to being in July. The second stage is set for the second half of 2021, with field operations in southern parts of the province.
“PLCM Joint Venture is excited to begin Stage 1 of the pilot operation in Saskatchewan this summer,” said Prairie president and CEO Zach Maurer and LiEP president and CEO Haafiz Hasham.
I can’t find any mention of the PLCM joint venture on the Prairie Lithium website but there is what appears to be a June 3, 2020 news release announcing the venture on the LiEP Energy website but there is no further information on that website.
On another front, Lithium Chile, which seems to be headquartered in Calgary with extensive lithium mining projects in Chile, has a brief mention of their partnership with Summit Nanotech in a December 24, 2020 posting (on the News webpage) by Steve (Cochrane; president and chief executive officer),
Lastly our partnership with Summit continues to move forward and we are very happy to be working with them. I have attached our recently negotiated LOI [letter of intent] for our JV [joint venture] pilot project in Chile. We should have the definitive agreement signed early in the new year. They plan to have their pilot unit completed and shipped by July of 2021 so a planned test is scheduled for late summer next year. This gives us the time to get back on one or more of our lithium prospects to prepare for our pilot project. They continue to see great results in the lab and hope this is the breakthrough we all want to see for an efficient cost and environmentally effective method of producing lithium from brines.
I cannot find any further mention on the Lithium Chile website about their joint venture with Summit Nanotech.
The big question is whether or not this technology can be scaled for industrial use. I wish them good luck with the effort.
All this talk about lithium extraction and other natural resource extraction brought to mind Harold Innis and his staples theory of Canadian history, culture, and economy. From the Harold Innis Wikipedia entry (Note: Links have been removed),
Harold Adams Innis FRSC (1894 – 1952) was a Canadian professor of political economy at the University of Toronto and the author of seminal works on media, communication theory, and Canadian economic history. He helped develop the staples thesis, [emphasis mine] which holds that Canada’s culture, political history, and economy have been decisively influenced by the exploitation and export of a series of “staples” such as fur, fishing, lumber, wheat, mined metals [emphasis mine], and coal. The staple thesis dominated economic history in Canada from the 1930s to 1960s, and continues to be a fundamental part of the Canadian political economic tradition.
There you have it.