In a province that has been drilling for generations and known for its oil and gas, this is a first.
A rig in Alberta’s historic Leduc oilfield isn’t drilling for oil, but lithium.
In June, Imperial Oil Ltd. announced it had signed a deal to invest $6.35 million in E3 Lithium, a Calgary-based junior resource company that has developed a technology to extract the naturally occurring lithium — a light metal that is a key component in the batteries used in electric vehicles — from oilfield brines.
Alberta has one of Canada’s largest lithium resources, though there was little interest in developing a lithium industry until the recent growth of electric vehicles and an exponential rise in demand for lithium ion batteries.
E3 Lithium vice president of resource development Peter Ratzlaff is happy with the project’s progress.
“This is our own source of lithium here in Canada. We don’t rely on places like South America, Australia and even China for these sources of materials.”
This is a major milestone for the lithium company. After two successful wells, E3 is now pulling brine out of the ground. It is then used to test the technology the company has spent years developing.
“This is an ion-exchange process that is used to extract low concentration of lithium out of the brine, which is coming out of the Leduc formation,” said Ratzlaff.
When it comes to evolving Alberta’s economy, there is a big focus on new industries like Lithium. The company says it really is the perfect compliment to the oil and gas industry.
Robin Boschman, E3 Lithium director of external relations, said this turnover is an easy transition.
“We’ll be able to reuse and repurpose a lot of the oil and gas infrastructure. And when we get to commercial operations, we anticipate creating a lot of long-term stable jobs in a new economy for Alberta and in Canada.”
This is exactly the type of development organizations like Energy Futures Lab have been helping foster. To help and ensure that, as the world looks for new ways to power the economy, Alberta will be ready. Energy Futures Lab director Juli Rohl believes it is.
“It will mean some upscaling to develop new technology and to understand new techniques but it’s something that is very transferable from the oil and gas industry.”
E3 also touts the value of developing a resource as close to home as possible.
“We know that there (are) growing concerns around the security of global supply chains at the moment,” Rohl said. “We have seen kind of the impacts of that over the last few years so having both the resources and processing technologies here at home is totally a gamechanger.”
— With a file from Amanda Stephenson, The Canadian Press
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