Lithium company sees potential for southeastern Sask.
At Prairie Lithium’s Emerald Park facility, the Company is perfecting a method of processing an extremely high-demand mineral amid rising demand for batteries.
From the outside it looks like one of the many workshops surrounding it.
Products like electric vehicles and cellphones convinced Don Bender, an engineer at the company, to get into lithium processing after a career in heavy oil.
“EVs were starting to go mainstream, I was pretty excited about the technology and that got me excited about the underlying technology, which is the batteries that power them,” Bender said.
Some lithium mining operations require an abundance of land, but that is not the project’s vision. Instead, it uses a substance called “PLIX” – which means Prairie Lithium Ion Exchange.
The PLIX is then blended into salty brine extracted deep underground at the Company’s oil rig near Torquay, Sask.
“The PLIX contains hydrogen ions, and they swap places with the lithium ions in the brine, we then take that PLIX out of the brine, we wash it, and then recover it with hydrochloric acid,” Bender said.
The end product of the process – now in its third iteration – is a crude lithium chloride. It’s the first step toward battery-grade lithium while the leftover brine is returned to where it was excavated.
“It wouldn’t help if we had to destroy our environment even more to switch to electric vehicles,” said Bender.
There are still questions about the future of the method, specifically whether it is better to have one large processing plant or a series of smaller ones.
Demand for the substance is high, and the federal government recently announced a $4 billion plan for a range of rare elements, including lithium.
“We are certainly interested in promoting the development of processing-related industries in this country and that is why we have allocated money to the Critical Minerals Strategy,” Jonathan Wilkinson, Secretary of State for Natural Resources, said at a news conference on March 9. December in Vancouver.
Prairie Lithium said the federal funding shows interest in Canadian-made rare earth projects.
The Company plans to start a full pilot project in southeast Saskatchewan based on the work done at Emerald Park.