Some oil and natural gas well sites are good locations for economically extracting lithium from produced water, according to observers of the nascent sub-sector of the oil and gas industry. This depends on the basin, since produced water mineral presence and concentrations can vary widely play-by-play, and even within the basins themselves, depending on the geology.
Subsurface or deep aquifer brines are abundant in Alberta and Saskatchewan oil and gas field and some of those have elevated lithium concentrations and are potential resources. Brines can have about 10000 times higher concentrations of lithium than in seawater. The best brine sources (notably the Salar de Atacama in Chile) can reach 5000 parts per million (ppm) lithium. As a rough rule of thumb, brines with less than 400 ppm lithium may not be economical to recover with today’s tech. The world’s oceans contain an estimated 180 billion tons of lithium. But it’s dilute, present at roughly 0.2 parts per million. Marginal brines have 2000 times the concentration of lithium compared to the oceans.
One tonne of lithium content is obtained from 5.3 tonnes of lithium carbonate (Li2CO3).
One tonne of lithium can be obtained from ~37 to 43 tonnes of spodumene concentrate.
The brine process involves drilling wells and pump the brine from underground into a series of evaporation ponds. In dry desert climates, the water in the brine evaporates, leaving behind a brine with even higher mineral content (basically a salty mud). Once the lithium content reaches target levels (up to 6% by weight), the highly concentrated brine is sent via pipeline or tank truck to a lithium processing facility.
Conventional brine facilities based on evaporation ponds typically recover only 30% to 50% of the lithium in the brine, and the extraction process takes roughly 36 months. Doubling lithium recovery could DOUBLE the amount of lithium that an existing brine operation produces.
The brine is decontaminated through filtration or ion exchange. It is then chemically treated to separate lithium is separated from the rest of the minerals in the brine. Lithium carbonate is obtained with a treatment with sodium carbonate. Solid lithium carbonate crystallizes out of solution. Filters are used to collect the solid lithium carbonate.
Calgary-based E3 Metals raised C$9.8 million ($7.8 million). They have a three-well program to evaluate lithium in a brine aquifer associated with the 1947 Leduc oil discovery that launched the Alberta fossil fuel industry. E3 Lithium has one of the largest inferred lithium resources amongst its lithium peers with 24.3 Million Tonnes (Mt) of Lithium Carbonate Equivalent (LCE), hosted in the world-class Leduc Aquifer. The Leduc aquifer could produce about 5 million tons of lithium. This covers just 69% of the Company’s permit area in south-central Alberta.
Global lithium production surpassed 100,000 tonnes for the first time in 2021, quadrupling from 2010. 90% of it came from just three countries (Australia, Chile and China). The USGS has older reports of lithium resources. The amount of available lithium is based upon different definitions. Thre is actual lithium production and a strict mining definition of reserves and then identified lithium resources.
Exploration has meant identified lithium resources have increased substantially worldwide and total about 89 million tons (2022). Identified lithium resources in the United States—from continental brines, geothermal brines, hectorite, oilfield brines, pegmatites, and searlesite—are 9.1 million tons. Identified lithium resources in other countries have been revised to 80 million tons. Identified lithium resources are distributed as follows:
Bolivia, 21 million tons;
Argentina, 19 million tons;
Chile, 9.8 million tons;
Australia, 7.3 million tons;
China, 5.1 million tons;
Congo (Kinshasa), 3 million tons;
Canada, 2.9 million tons; [E3 Lithium’s Leduc Aquifer does not fully qualify as identified lithium yet.]
Germany, 2.7 million tons;
Mexico, 1.7 million tons;
Czechia, 1.3 million tons;
Serbia, 1.2 million tons;
Russia, 1 million tons;
Peru, 880,000 tons;
Mali, 700,000 tons;
Zimbabwe, 500,000 tons;
Brazil, 470,000 tons;
Spain, 300,000 tons;
Portugal, 270,000 tons;
Ghana, 130,000 tons;
Austria, 60,000 tons;
and Finland, Kazakhstan, and Namibia, 50,000 tons each.
The Leduc Aquifer is 2,500 meters below the surface. It is an extensively dolomitized ancient reef complex that spans 100s of square kilometers in area and is more than 200 metres thick. The Leduc’s large extent provides the company an opportunity to continually expand development into the future.
The Leduc Aquifer is an expansive ancient reef complex with excellent rock properties, occurring over 2km below ground level in the Clearwater Project area. Over 7,000 wells have been drilled in E3’s broader project area over a 70-year oil and gas development period. Historical data from these wells, supported by E3’s recent sampling campaigns, were used to characterize and model the geology within the resource boundary, as shown in the following schematic.
Calgary-based, Summit Nanotech Corp and British partner CleanTech Lithium raised $14 million for a pilot project to test its DLE technology in Chile.
Hard rock lithium production has a first step of digging open-pit mines. Rocks are then crushed, pulverized, sorted by size, and cleaned. This prep allows spodumene to be separated from the rest of the rock bits through established mining processes (physical separations and flotation). The result is a spodumene concentrate (all of the spodumene rock bits, none of the other rock bits) with about 6–7% Li2O that is ready for lithium extraction.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.
2 thoughts on “Some Old Oil and Gas Fields Have Lithium Rich Water”
Spodumene is a pyroxene mineral consisting of lithium aluminium inosilicate, LiAl₂. Kunzite and Hiddenite are often gem quality and make beautiful stones when cut. It’s sad to see them crushed up for batteries …
Have a look at the Standard Lithium project in Arkansas. I believe they are up to a pilot plant stage. Trades as SLI on Toronto venture.
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