Arizona Lithium CTO Brett Rabe, left, and managing director Paul Lloyd. Arizona Lithium

EMERALD PARK, Prairie Lithium Corporation announced on March 7 that it is a recipient of funding from the Critical Mineral Research Development and Demonstration (CMRDD) program from Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) valued at $1,074,000 CAD for direct lithium extraction (DLE) technology development.

The announcement came roughly a week before the expected closure of the sale of Prairie Lithium to Arizona Lithium.

The funding, along with matching funds from Prairie Lithium, will be invested into the development of the company’s proprietary DLE technology over the next 12 months.

DLE is the critical technology needed to commercialize the lithium found dissolved in deep saline aquifers in Saskatchewan and Alberta. While numerous companies are working on it, including Prairie Lithium, no one has quite crossed that bridge yet.

“Securing support from NRCan is instrumental for the company’s development and further demonstrates the federal government’s commitment to developing key critical mineral projects across the country. The grant allows us to accelerate our DLE technology development with the goal of getting to commercial scale lithium production as quickly as possible,” said Prairie Lithium president and CEO Zach Maurer, when asked about what this funding means for the project and company.

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Minister of Natural Resources Jonathan Wilkinson said in a release, “Canadian innovators are leading the way towards a cleaner future. Today’s investment of more than $1 million in Prairie Lithium will help to advance the development of a dynamic and competitive critical minerals sector through the development and demonstration of innovative processing technologies. This means good jobs for workers, more investment in Canadian innovation, and lower emissions across the country – all part of our plan to build a cleaner Canada and a prosperous, sustainable economy that works for everyone.”

Acquisition by Arizona Lithium expected soon

The announcement came just a week before the expected closure of the deal where Australia-based Arizona Lithium would acquire Prairie Lithium.

An investor webinar held by Arizona Lithium on Feb. 16 provided some information about the future of Prairie Lithium. Paul Lloyd, managing director of Arizona Lithium, said, on Feb. 16 via Zoom, “We’re very excited about the Prairie Lithium project. And we throw around a lot of ideas and develop a strategy of how we’re going to merge these two companies and take advantage of all synergies that exist with these two advanced projects, because those are both basically development projects.”

After the shareholder approval, scheduled for March 14, completion of the deal is expected a few days later. “And we’ll go straight into fast-tracking the development of both projects,” Lloyd said, also referring to the company’s Big Sandy project in Arizona.

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New name

Asked by Pipeline Online if Prairie Lithium would continue operating under that name, Lloyd said from his experience in mergers and acquisitions, “If you want to take advantage of the synergies, you move quickly. So, at this strategy session we’ve had the last three days, we are going to change the name of Prairie and it will be operating under the name of Arizona Lithium , because we are combining the two companies and we want to take advantage of all those benefits of combining the two groups with two very exciting development projects.”

Once merged, the intention is to list the combined entity on the NASDAQ, Lloyd said, but that will take six to nine months.

The company also has an investment in Midwest Lithium, which is working in the Black Hills area of South Dakota. That is a spodumene lithium project.

Lithium research centre in Arizona

The company has set up its own lithium research centre in Arizona. They’ve received all the laboratory equipment in Arizona, and after commissioning in March, it is expected to be operational in April. It will process 1,000 kilogram lots of ore, as the Big Sandy project is a sedimentary clay mine, as opposed to a lithium brine project like the Prairie Lithium project at Torquay, Saskatchewan.

Lloyd noted they sent samples from Big Sandy to Prairie Lithium for testing, with encouraging results. “The results were very encouraging. And now that we’re merging the group, those synergies will come to fruition.

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Speaking about the acquisition in more detail, Lloyd said, “It’s a very good team of lithium executives based up there in Canada. They have 4.1 million tonnes of LCE in the third category. So, a very large resource and when we compare that to industry peers like Lake it’s right up there.

“It was a private company that had some difficulties raising funds. And lithium research is an expensive business. So now they’re partnering with Arizona Lithium. We have the ability to raise funds and fast track that development.

When you’re testing a lot of water, you need a lot of tanks. The grey ones are from Captive Rentals while the black and green ones are from Latus Oilfield Solutions. The service rig is Independent Well Servicing. All are from Estevan. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

 

“You might say what’s the development, because they have a resource? Yes, they do have a resource a large resource that can be grown. But how do you monetize that lithium in the ground, as a brine?

“You have to bring it to the surface, filter in some way and then reinjected back into the ground. So, from an ESG point of view, it’s an extremely positive way to produce lithium. And that filtration system we call direct lithium extraction, or DLE, and there’s a number of groups developing up DLE. Lake (Resources) are talking about daily with an external group, but Prairie have been developing up their own daily technology. It’s come a long way.”

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Bringing experience

He noted that the past history of Arizona Lithium’s chief technical officer, Brett Rabe, “will be a huge advantage for the combined group.”

Lloyd said, “If we could break that code on select lithium extraction and start producing, on a small scale, granted, in a modular format, we could start producing very quickly, because you’re working in area that is a historic oil and gas area in Saskatchewan, in Canada.”

He noted that the area is already used to similar development with oil and gas, with trucks moving about as an example. He pointed out how oil production in the area is pumping brine with a little bit of oil in it. “We’re going to pump from a different formation water with a little bit of lithium in it,” he said.

Direct lithium extraction

He noted permitting will be similar to oil and gas development, which is an advantage. Lloyd pointed out that the Prairie Lithium project can be developed in a modular format. “Therefore, you’re talking about a capital cost of $20 to $30 million to effectively prove the concept. So you put the DLE technology into the field, and you produce either lithium sulfate or lithium chloride at the wellsite and then you re-inject the brine with no lithium.

“Somewhat simple, somewhat simpler than the Big Sandy project, but not one that people are currently producing from. There’s a lot of people in the industry talking about DLE breakthroughs, and we look forward to those breakthroughs. And we look forward to our own DLE breakthroughs. If, in fact, that does not come, we are quite happy to use third party groups to produce our material using direct lithium extraction. We basically have a foot in both camps.”

He added that the Big Sandy project is going to be more likely US$650 to $700 million. Fast-tracking Prairie Lithium’s project and adding modules and wells “creates substantial wealth for our shareholders, because it comes from such a low capital cost, compared to Big Sandy.”

Lloyd said from the conference he’s attended, DLE and brine lithium will go a long way to grow lithium output and fill the supply shortfall.

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Rabe noted he had personally designed and managed the very first pilot facility for direct lithium extraction over 10 years ago, before it was known as that. Speaking about the Arizona lithium research centre, he said, “Since then I’ve been involved with four projects, designing and managing the pilot plant most recently. I developed the original design, developed the original pilot plant for Thacker Pass in the Americas .that got us to the record of decision. So this would be my fourth one. And it’s wonderful opportunities. It’s the nicest research centre I’ve ever I’ve ever worked in. It’s got the best equipment that I’ve ever used in my career. And I would expect that it’s going to be the best data of any of the prior projects I’ve been involved with design with or engineering. So we’re really looking forward to it.”

The brine enters the pilot plant from the left, goes through two centrifuges in the middle, and comes out on the right. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

 

Lloyd said of the Saskatchewan project, “The most significant part of a brine project is its production. So it’s flow rates. Those wells out there in the prairies, in Canada, flow extremely well. There’s a lot of data points to calculate a resource and Prairie have drilled and re-entered three wells in total over 26 kilometre area. So it’s a huge area of lithium brines, and they have been extremely consistent over those three holes that they’ve actually re-entered. And the other data points are from previous oil and gas drilling.

“So we’re very confident of the resource at Prairie and we’re confident that the production from the wells will be significant to allow us to produce large amounts of the LCE using the DLE technology. We are confident we will be able to break the code, but we still need to do a lot of work that needs to be involved. It’s just fine tuning that DLE technology.

Lloyd added, “There’s always a risk with every investment. And I see that as one of the risks here. And we’re going to mitigate that risk as soon as possible by throwing engineers and putting a lot of funding into that we would rather be funding DLE technology rather than drilling additional holes at the Prairie project, because we have do have a very large resource.”

Rabe said, “The recovery rate, or absorption rate, for many is well over 90 per cent. So, with DLE technology, it’s never been about absorbing enough lithium. The challenge, and why we’ve been working on it for over 10 years now, has to do with the degradation, effectively the longevity of the absorbent, and the cost to make the absorbent.”

“Where a lot of DLE technologies distinguish themselves, or are now beginning to finally distinguish themselves, is their approaches to make the DLE absorbent last longer, to not foul as quickly.

“But really, the lithium extraction or the amount of lithium that’s absorbed, is excellent.”

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DLE can affect all lithium projects

Rabe added that DLE technology “literally can touch every project in the world, not just a brine that can evaporate, but it can also supplement or help the cash operating cost of sedimentary clay, or even spodumene (hard rock).

“That’s one of out main interest in Prairie, is that this technology is applicable to flow sheets across the board, not just brine operations that can’t use sunlight to evaporate.”

Direct Lithium Extraction technology being tested at Emerald Park, Saskatchewan. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

 

Asked what would happen with research work being done in Emerald Park, given Arizona Lithium is developing its own research centre in that state, Lloyd said, “The movement of materials and samples, etc. are quite simple from Regina, Saskatchewan to an area, to Phoenix. Prairie have a team of lithium people out there. So, as we merge the companies, we’ll evaluate that in detail, as the lithium research center has state of the art equipment as ready for use, as previously said. So, a lot of that work will move down to the lithium research centre, I would suggest. But it’s nice to have the staff up there and the technology to develop the DLE could be happening at both places at the same time.”

Rabe said they would, “over the next six months to a year is finishing the development of absorbent, test it thoroughly, and then determine what the manufacturing process, the least expensive manufacturing process for that absorbent (is), so we can produce it at commercial scale and distribute it to our production wells, and to other resources we may have at that time that may use DLE.”

 

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Lithium in SK, Part 13B: Hub City announces highest lithium concentration to date, by a significant margin

Lithium in SK: Part 13: Coming into lithium with revenue already flowing from oil

Lithium in SK, Part 12: Hub City Lithium shows promising results northeast of Weyburn

Lithium in SK, Part 11: A detailed video on lithium geology in SE Sask

Lithium in SK, Part 10: A helium explorer who found lithium responds

Lithium in SK, Part 9: And the acquisitions begin, with Prairie Lithium to be acquired by Arizona Lithium

Lithium in SK, Part 8: Ministry of Energy and Resources response to primacy of rights issues

Lithium in SK: Part 7b: The rent’s due, and so is the LLR

Lithium in SK, Part 7: Dealing with an embarrassment of riches – sorting out the primacy of rights

Lithium in SK, Part 6: Direct Lithium Extraction is the multi-billion dollar question

Lithium in SK, Part 5: Prairie Lithium – Old wells or new wells?

Lithium in SK, Part 4: Prairie Lithium pursuing the idea there could be lithium in those brines

Lithium in SK, Part 3: Crown land sale reveals sixth entrant in Saskatchewan lithium exploration race

Lithium in SK, Part 2: Saskatchewan government launches lithium incentives

Lithium in SK Part 1: As the race for lithium takes off, Saskatchewan is seeing the dawn of a new industry