Geothermal and Lithium Mining – digging deeper into a hot topic

Geothermal and Lithium Mining – digging deeper into a hot topic Electric car charging station (source: flickr/ Open Grid Scheduler, creative commons)
Alexander Richter 1 Oct 2018

Extracting lithium from geothermal brine, a rather hot topic, not only as it seems to be able to fuel demand for a much needed metal in battery technology, but also because it provides a potentially added revenue opportunity for geothermal companies.

Having reported now for quite some time on the extraction of Lithium from geothermal brine, we wanted to explore more on the technology and the approach behind it. From a geothermal energy perspective, the lithium story has been quite intriguing, simply due to the fact as it could provide a completely different and additional revenue stream to geothermal development. Therefore the story of MGX Minerals, a diversified Canadian resource company with interests in advanced material and energy assets throughout North America, and its work is interesting for the geothermal sector, particularly in the case where it ties into joint geothermal and lithium “mining” activities.

We connected with Randall W. Keller as Vice President of Business Development to give us some insights.

To our understanding the business of extracting lithium has been a rather traditional mining activity. Your company has been working on an approach to derive it from brine. Can you give us maybe a bit of background?

MGX Minerals’ novel technology uses nanofiltration to extract lithium from a complex range of brines that were previously considered un-processable due to complexity or geographical location. These include naturally occurring surface brines and industrial wastewater, including water produced by the oil and gas and geothermal industries. In the case of industrial-process waters, our technology simultaneously treats the water for discharge or reuse.

The conventional method of extracting lithium from brines, solar evaporation, which is used widely in Latin America, requires investment in large, multi-phase, lake-sized, lined evaporation ponds that take months to produce lithium. Our process recovers lithium in a matter of hours, and reduces the capital cost and environmental footprint of mineral recovery.

In what context are geothermal energy and lithium connected geologically?

All geothermal resources are different, and the mineral brines found in any given spot depend on the particular geological makeup of the region. When geothermal plants pump hot water to the surface,  they bring up mineral-rich brines along with it. In areas where high concentrations of lithium and geothermal activity coincide, geothermal operators end up pumping tons of lithium to the surface only to inject it right back down again once the water is used to generate electricity. MGX’s technology can extract lithium from its wastewater before it gets re-injected into the ground, creating a new revenue source for the operator in the process.

Would your company drill wells to derive lithium from brine and how does this correlate with any possible geothermal energy development?

At the moment we’re looking to apply our rapid lithium extraction technology to geothermal fields. We’ve successfully demonstrated our filtration technology’s capabilities in our Calgary lab, so now we’re looking for the resources to move it forward in the geothermal industry. We’re at the forefront of a potentially huge opportunity for geothermal.

How would your activities differ from that of a geothermal developer, that also seeks to derive geothermal fluids to utilise steam for power production?

MGX’s technology would extract the lithium from the water before it is injected back into the ground, creating an entirely new revenue stream from the recovered lithium. At the same time, by treating the water, we’d be helping developers avoid scaling in their systems, which can cause severe problems if left unchecked.

We thank MGX for providing some insight. More details about the company can be found on its website at: