News

KenGen explores mineral extraction from geothermal in revenue diversification bid

Wells at Olkaria, video screenshot (source: Al Jazeera)
Alexander Richter Alexander Richter 14 Dec 2018

Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen) is exploring the viability of extracting minerals, such as silica and lithium from geothermal brine in a bid on diversifying its revenue base.

We reported earlier this week, of a new call for expressions of interest by Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen) for consultants to determine the viability of extracting minerals such as silica and lithium from geothermal fluids in a revenue diversification bid.

With similar efforts being made around the world by geothermal operators and mining companies, it is not surprising that KenGen would explore that possibility. The company has over recent years explored different ways to diversify its revenue streams, among them direct use applications, but also setting up an industrial park near its geothermal operations that could also provide opportunities to sell excess heat to industrial customers.

“Over the years KenGen has invested heavily in generation of electricity using geothermal energy. All the geothermal plants owned by KenGen are single flash condensing type. The flashing process yields brine that contains mineral elements like Silica that could have commercial application,” so the tender notice.

Geothermal hot waters (brines) have been used for thousands of years for mineral baths and to heat homes, greenhouses and furnish hot water to local communities in certain areas of the world.

As reported by Business Daily, KenGen has seen around 600-800 milligrammes (mg) of silica per kilogramme of the fluid and 1.5 and 2mg per kilogramme of lithium in geothermal brine recovered from wells at Olkaria.

Lithium is mostly used in making batteries, toys, in medicine to make pacemakers and also, combined with aluminium form an alloy which makes high-speed railcars and planes. Lithium, a key component for batteries used in electric vehicles, is currently trading at about $13,000 (about Sh 1.3 million) per tonne in China, which is the world’s biggest consumer of lithium.

Silica, which clogs tanks and pipes during geothermal generation, is used in the pharmaceutical and glass industry.

KenGen, whose Olkaria geothermal field covers over 20,400 hectares, forcefully redirects hot brine back to the ground primarily to maintain reservoir pressure.

The new venture of using geothermal by-products will potentially cut KenGen’s reliance on electricity sales to the national grid, which accounts for over 90 percent its income.

Source: Business Daily/ KenGen