When The Wall Street Journal reported in May that Exxon Mobil Corp. had acquired mineral rights leases on 120,000 acres in Lafayette and Columbia counties to join the lithium extraction industry, CEO Robert Mintak of Standard Lithium wasn’t surprised.
Exxon reportedly paid Galvanic Energy of Oklahoma City more than $100 million to get the leases. That investment was a validation of Standard’s six years of work in south Arkansas, Mintak said.
“Our team identified the Smackover Formation as the best lithium brine resource in North America, with an existing infrastructure and regulatory statutes in place for the bromine industry. It sets a good template for how we would look to build a lithium industry.” The region is the world’s second-largest producer of bromine and brominated chemicals; companies have been filtering it from Arkansas underground brine for 60 years, he said.
Standard Lithium, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, has backing from Koch Industries of Wichita, Kansas, the second-largest privately held company in the U.S.
In July, former Koch executive David Park joined Standard as senior strategic adviser. Park was previously president of Koch Strategic Platforms, which invested $100 million in the Standard project in 2021. And Standard is using an extraction process developed by Koch along with its own proprietary direct lithium extraction method at two demonstration plants in El Dorado.
Mintak describes direct lithium extraction as an unconventional process to unlock underground energy, much as hydraulic fracturing unleashed oil and natural gas in the Permian Basin early in this century. Fracking turned the U.S. into the world’s largest natural gas producer and made it an oil powerhouse once again.
But Mintak says lithium extraction “has much more attractive economics moving forward as we’re going into this new energy economy.”