An Oklahoma company challenging a Canadian startup in the race to create a domestic lithium industry in south Arkansas has completed a resource study suggesting it's a prospect to watch.
Galvanic Energy of Oklahoma City said in a news release Tuesday that certified third-party testing of underground saltwater from beneath Galvanic’s 120,000-acre stake in the Smackover brine formation flags it as one of the largest resources for the element in North America.
The trove in Lafayette and Columbia counties may hold enough lithium to produce batteries for 50 million electric cars, Galvanic President and CEO Brent Wilson told Arkansas Business in a telephone interview. The underground mineral leases are on land generally south of Magnolia.
“Our vision is to use well bores to pump up brine, then extract the necessary elements, especially for the renewable energy sector, then pump the water back into the same formation, so there’s very little footprint,” Wilson said. “Our next step will be looking for just the right technology to extract the brine, and we want a diversity of ideas.”
Another company sourcing lithium from Arkansas brine, Standard Lithium of Vancouver, British Columbia, has had pilot plants extracting and refining lithium at a Lanxess chemical plant in El Dorado for more than a year. It says it is moving toward a decision to build a commercial plant next year.
“There’s more than one way to skin a cat,” said Wilson, who has been watching Standard’s progress. Galvanic, which describes itself as “a geoscience-driven resource exploration company” on the lookout for natural resources essential to the renewable energy sector of the economy, has completed well tests and hopes to have its extraction answer, or answers, by sometime in the third quarter. A pilot plant could be in operation sometime next year.
“I started our company in 2018, looking at opportunities across the U.S.,” Wilson said. “Smackover was the brightest of all the prospects; bromine operations have been active in the area for years.” He added that along with Standard and Galvanic, Tetra Technologies Inc. of near Houston and Albemarle Corp. of Charlotte, North Carolina, are both investigating lithium possibilities in south Arkansas.
Brine drawn from deep test wells in Galvanic Energy’s Smackover Formation lands yielded lithium concentrations ranging from 290 milligrams per liter to 520 milligrams per liter, some of the highest reported values among all North American brines. Testing also revealed bromine concentrations of 3,700-6,000 mg/L.
APEX Geoscience Ltd. of Edmonton, Alberta, estimated that Galvanic’s stake could hold 4 million tons of lithium carbonate equivalent and 10 million tons of elemental bromine. Among other uses, bromine is employed in flame retardants.
The United States Geological Survey estimates the domestic lithium reserve at 750,000 tons and sees a total inferred resource of 9.1 million tons, including “oilfield brines” such as the Smackover. “The significance of 4 million tons domestic LCE is evident,” Wilson said. “This is one in six registered automobiles in the United States.”
He said Galvanic’s operation, strategically located in the south-central United States in anticipation of new EV and battery factories that could “greatly reduce America’s reliance on foreign supply chains.”
The low-impact extraction, as opposed to huge open pits and evaporation ponds, is far better for the environment, Wilson said. “Given the regulatory and environmental challenges facing conventional mining operations, [environmental] responsibility is critical to moving American raw material resource production forward.”
Galvanic Energy has been evaluating multiple direct lithium extraction technology providers to determine which of those processes is best suitable for developing this world-class lithium asset. “We are going to require additional expertise, so we will be looking for potential partners in some of these processes,” Wilson said. He expects the Smackover prospect to support a domestic supply chain for lithium batteries needed in electric vehicles, portable electronics and power storage systems.
“Electric vehicle makers are very concerned about keeping pace with the mass quantities of batteries they are going to need, so we realize we need to ramp up both quickly and responsibly,” said Wilson, a trained engineer. “But this area could definitely be a hub.”