EnergyX moves closer to commercial lithium production in the Americas
EnergyX expects that its five lithium refinery demonstration plants in North and South America will all be up and running within the next 12 months, bringing the company one step closer to commercialized direct-lithium-extraction (DLE) production, according to chief executive officer Teague Egan.
Egan told Fastmarkets that the demonstration plants are being developed in:
- California’s Salton Sea, with support of a $5 million Department of Energy grant;
- Utah’s Great Salt Lake;
- Texas/Arkansas’ Smackover Formation;
- Argentina, to serve the domestic market, which is important due to the number of customers in the country and the facility’s proximity to them; and
- Chile, which is currently the world’s top lithium-producing nation.
EnergyX was originally focused on investing in South America due to the region’s plentiful and high concentration of lithium in brine, but the company added plants in the United States after the introduction of the US Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), according to Egan.
“I don’t know if we would have been focused on the US at all [without the IRA],” he said. “Now we are building three demonstration plants in the US.”
After the demonstration phase, EnergyX plans to replicate commercial scale-up with equipment sized at approximately 10x the rate of its demonstration plants, which currently can process one cubic meter of brine per hour, according to Egan.
“We’re past the technology risk – we know the technology works – but there is engineering scale-up risk,” he said. “That’s the next milestone that we’re focused on: demonstration plants that can produce up to 50 tonnes of lithium per annum.”
He continued: “If we validate customers’ brine at one cubic meter per hour for a few dozen tonnes of lithium on an annual basis for a certain period of time – three to six months– on industrial-grade, demonstration-scale equipment, that is enough to give us and our investors the confidence to go build multi-hundred-million-dollar plants.”
The company closed its Series B financing for $50 million, led by GM Ventures, earlier this year. That capital will not bring EnergyX to commercial-scale production, however, because those plants cost far more, according to Egan.
EnergyX has the flexibility and plans to process its customers’ brine into both lithium hydroxide and/or carbonate, and the company also license its technology, Egan said. Due to expected lithium shortages, some other companies will build their own lithium plants regardless, “so we might as well have them use our technology,” he explained.
EnergyX technology is unique in that it is a “DLE platform” offering three technologies at once with the ability to process a variety of brines including geothermal brines and brines with challenging impurity profiles, according to Egan.
“What we realized early on is: there is no ‘one size fits all’ technology; each has advantages and disadvantages and all brines are different,” he said. “When a company comes to us, we can decide on a custom flow sheet that is the most simplified and efficient, and therefore cost-effective.”
Processing lithium brine instead of lithium from hard rock has several advantages, according to Egan:
- Most global lithium supply is in brine;
- The process has a smaller carbon footprint;
- There is lower exploration risk; and
- It offers greater flexibility, via emerging technologies, as well as increasing recovery rates.
The advantage of processing lithium from hard rock, for now, is that it can be processed directly into lithium hydroxide, Egan said.
“All brine today is produced into carbonate and then further processed into hydroxide; that makes it a lot more expensive,” he said. “That’s another advantage of the technology we’re working on, which will skip that carbonate step.”
EnergyX operates a corporate headquarters in San Juan, Puerto Rico; science headquarters in Austin, Texas; and facilities in Bolivia, Chile and Argentina.
Fastmarkets’ price assessment for lithium hydroxide monohydrate LiOH.H2O 56.5% LiOH min, battery grade, spot price, cif China, Japan & Korea was $29-31 per kg on Friday September 1, down from $37.50-41.00 per kg at the beginning of August.
Similarly, Fastmarkets’ price assessment for lithium carbonate 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot prices cif China, Japan & Korea was $28-31 per kg on September 1, down from $36.15-40.00 per kg one month earlier.
Keep up to date with the latest lithium prices, data and forecasts on our dedicated lithium price page.