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Alberta Launches First Lithium Extraction Project

The Canadian province of Alberta has just entered the global race for lithium extraction after a Canadian lithium extraction start-up launched its Direct Lithium Extraction (DLE) field pilot plant, the first in the oil-rich province.

E3 Lithium received earlier this year a license from the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) to construct and operate the necessary equipment to run a direct lithium extraction pilot, planned to begin operations in the third quarter of 2023.   

“We are incredibly excited to be field testing ion exchange technology for direct lithium extraction in real-world operating conditions this year,” Chris Doornbos, President and CEO of E3 Lithium, said at the time.

At the pilot project site, Doornbos told Bloomberg this week,

“The opportunity to be a global leader, and to make Alberta a lithium jurisdiction, is really and truly here.”

A full-scale commercial plant at the pilot project site could be up and running in 2026 and process up to 150,000 tons of battery-grade lithium product annually, Doornbos told Bloomberg.

DLE could create a new supply source for the crucial mineral. Demand for lithium is expected to surge as the energy transition progresses, while the West is looking to diversify supply chains away from China’s lithium processing.  

“Direct lithium extraction (DLE) and direct lithium to product (DLP) can be the driving forces behind the industry’s ability to respond more swiftly to soaring demand,” McKinsey & Company said in a report last year.  

Bank UBS expects China to end up controlling nearly one-third of the global lithium supply by 2025. Mines controlled by Beijing, not only in China but also in Africa, will see their total lithium output jump more than threefold in just three years—from 194,000 tons in 2022 to 705,000 tons by 2025, UBS said in a note earlier this year, carried by Bloomberg

This surge in supply would raise the Chinese share of global lithium supply to 32% in 2025, up from 24% in 2022, the bank said.  

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Alberta, for its part, could hold great opportunities in its untapped lithium brines, Enverus Intelligence Research (EIR) said in a report this week.

“Rising demand for lithium, a key metal in the transition of energy sources to lower-carbon alternatives, is sparking a land grab in Alberta and a renaissance in prospecting, this time for lithium rather than oil,” said Graham Bain, report author and a vice president at EIR.  

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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