The Silicon Review
Lithium is a key component in batteries powering the electrification revolution - expanding from handheld electronics to power tools to electric vehicles (EV’s) and hybrids; essentially all aspects of human mobility. Lithium ion technology is continually redefining mobile power applications. The lithium ion battery is well-known for offering one of the best energy-to-weight ratios, with minimal battery power loss when not in use. These are two key criteria for car manufacturers as they ramp up their EV business.
All industries demand efficient, powerful and low-cost solutions to power their mobile machines. Electric and hybrid vehicles are increasingly making headlines as the world moves towards electrified transportation. However, electric mobility has an impact on more than just the design and production of EVs. Supply chains are also affected. As batteries increase in efficiency, the cost per unit of power has come down considerably, making the use of these batteries in everyday applications more affordable. These cost savings have driven even wider adoption of lithium ion batteries into broader applications which is increasing the electrification revolution. Today, lithium batteries are used in almost all ‘mobile’ electrical storage applications. We have witnessed a growth in demand for personal consumables, such as electric scooters and bicycles, across the globe, as well as larger industrial applications, such as grid level energy storage systems.
Battery manufacturing facilities, or Gigafactories, are being constructed, with an estimated 2.2 terawatts (TW) of battery power capacity committed for construction globally. The business of producing raw (high purity) lithium material that will go into the 2.2 TW of lithium ion batteries can be met by lithium developers like Alberta (Canada) based E3 Metals. Alberta is a well-known oil and gas region with massive lithium resources. As E3 Metals works towards commercial production of its lithium project, this oil and gas province will soon be known for lithium.
E3 Metals’ 6.7 million tonnes of lithium inferred mineral resources are hosted in brine reservoirs below surface at its Alberta Lithium Project. This brine is pumped to surface using existing infrastructure put in place by conventional oil producers. From there, it can be processed into battery quality lithium hydroxide using the company’s proprietary Direct Lithium Extraction (DLE) technology. E3 Metals has partnered with Livent, a leading US-based lithium producer and technology developer, to advance the DLE technology. This technology will give E3 Metals a significant advantage over its peers, as it allows the company to produce lithium faster and at higher purities levels.
E3 Metals’ goal is to produce high purity lithium hydroxide that can be deployed directly into lithium-ion batteries, this final refinement will provide E3 with a higher cost basis for its products. The next step to reaching this goal will be to publish a preliminary economic assessment confirming the project’s profitability, followed by the construction of a pilot plant in 2021.
E3 Metals was founded in 2017 and is publicly listed. The company trades on the Toronto Stock Exchange (Venture) in Canada under the symbol ETMC and the OTC in the US under EEMMF.
In conversation with Chris Doornbos, Founder and CEO of E3 Metals
Q. How are lithium ion batteries changing? Why is demand meant to increase dramatically over the next five years?
Most of the demand for lithium is being driven by electric cars; however, other uses are growing in popularity, advancing the electrification revolution. New products come to market regularly that require lithium-ion batteries. Power tools and electric scooters are two readily available applications, as are electric bikes and house batteries. Many electric cars on the road today have ranges of over 300 miles. As the energy density in lithium batteries continues to increase, fewer batteries are required to travel the same range and so the price of EVs continues to decline. Combine this with automobile manufacturers re-tooling entire production lines for EV specific platforms; the general consumer electric car is expected to reach price parity to internal combustion engine vehicles by 2025. Consumer demand for EVs is expected to increase dramatically once this happens, making projects like the one being developed by E3 Metals’ imperative to the growth of the EV market. The company’s ability to produce high purity lithium required for producing these lithium ion batteries will be a key differentiator for the company.
Q. What are the project advantages of being based in Alberta?
E3 Metals has a massive opportunity in Alberta to use existing expertise and infrastructure from an established oil and gas industry to produce a clean energy product for the future. We refer to this as the “Alberta Advantage”. At our project, lithium production can occur from reservoirs that sit under historic (i.e. depleted) oil and gas reservoirs, so production will be similar to traditional oil and gas operations. Lithium brine requires wells, pumps and pipes, all of which are present in the project area and this can provide a massive advantage.
Also, the oil and gas industry is well established in Alberta and as such, it is extremely sophisticated; all the services and technical skills required to build a lithium project are available locally. There are established permitting regimes and a well-established social license to the operational activities needed to build this project. The company can capitalize on all of this to commercialize the production of over 6,700,00 tonnes of lithium contained at E3 Metals’ wholly owned project.
Q. Tell us about the extraction process for your resource.
E3 Metals is developing a Direct Lithium Extraction process, using ion-exchange, to efficiently strip lithium from brines at E3 Metals’ project. The process is designed to significantly increase the purity of lithium produced, removing over 99% of the other elements in the brine. It also concentrates the lithium and creates a high purity, high-grade lithium solution that can be directly processed into a variety of high value lithium products, such as hydroxide and carbonate. As the process happens without evaporation and within hours, the company anticipates a simplified downstream lithium production flowsheet. The company’s near-term goal is to demonstrate the application of the process at a larger scale with a pilot plant. The pilot plant would be built on site in Alberta, likely in 2021, and will capitalize on the Alberta Advantage. After the pilot plant is operational the company will move towards commercialization.
Q. What sets E3 Metals apart from its peers?
E3 Metals is in a unique position, as we own both a significant lithium resource and the primary extraction technology, which lithium development companies need to make a battery quality product. With over 6.7 million tonnes of resources located within only a third of our permit area, the project has more than enough lithium to build a project on a global scale.
Project location is an important consideration for any business. E3 Metals is unique as it can benefit from the Alberta advantage, as mentioned earlier, which can positively impact development costs for the project. Many of our peers invest millions of dollars to build infrastructure to develop their projects; for us, this development is expected to be much lower because much of the infrastructure needed is already in place.
Finally, I would like to highlight our primary extraction processing technology again. Developed in-house, our technology allows E3 Metals to extract lithium from our resources quickly and efficiently. We can create an extremely pure concentrate that could be further refined into battery quality lithium hydroxide and at higher recovery rates than our peers.
Q. What are E3 Metals’ five-year goal?
The five-year goal for this company is to be in a commercial production, producing 20,000 tonnes of battery quality lithium hydroxide annually by 2024. High purity lithium hydroxide currently sells for $14,000 USD per tonne, which would be a significant revenue stream for the company. In the near term, we plan on publishing initial project economics, which will be an incredible milestone for the company. We will be progressing rapidly through the development steps over the next few years, including the operation of a pilot plant to demonstrate scaled down commerciality of the DLE process.
Meet the leader behind the success of E3 Metals
Chris Doornbos is an entrepreneur and aviator, founder of emerging ideas and new technology. He is the CEO and founder of E3 Metals. With a background in major project development, he is leading E3 Metals towards being the first lithium producer in Canada.