Standard Lithium Ltd., a leading contender in the race to bring commercial lithium production to south Arkansas, published detailed results Monday from a direct lithium extraction process it tested in partnership with a Koch Industries subsidiary.
The publicly traded Canadian company said in a news release that two tests show that the process is “ready to scale” as Standard sets the pace in the Smackover geological formation “with a tested, optimized and proven” direct lithium extraction process.
The company is factoring the results into plans for commercial lithium plants near El Dorado and west of Magnolia that would feed the growing market for lithium in battery-making, particularly for electric vehicles.
The process was tested at Standard’s demonstration plant near El Dorado, where it uses the wells and pipelines of Lanxess, a major bromine processor, to feed subterranean Smackover brine into its extraction facilities.
The release called the test plant “the only truly large-scale, continuously operating DLE plant in North America.” It began operating in May 2020, and has processed more than 15 million gallons of Smackover brine, giving the company data and offering it a chance to improve its processes and designs for operating a full-scale commercial DLE plant planned at the site.
The results reflect success for a direct extraction process developed with Koch Technology Solutions LLC of Houston, a subsidiary of Koch Industries of Wichita, Kansas. Koch is the second largest privately held company in the United States, behind Cargill Inc.
Koch entities have invested more than $100 million into Standard’s Smackover projects.
The test results showed that in July and August, the LiPRO LSS process “achieved an average lithium recovery of 96.1% from the continuous incoming brine flow.” The DLE process also rejected, on average, over 99% of key contaminants including sodium, calcium, magnesium and potassium from the brine.” Over 95% of boron was also rejected.
The DLE process further purified and concentrated over 10,000 milligrams of lithium per liter of brine, shipping the product off-site for successful conversion into battery-quality lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide, the release said. The results have been integrated into Standard Lithium’s overall flowsheet, which is part of a definitive feasibility study for the planned commercial plant south of El Dorado, which is projected to be capable of producing 5,000 tons of lithium products per year.
The data will also go into Standard’s preliminary feasibility study for a much larger plant west of Magnolia that could produce up to 30,000 tons of lithium products per year, six times the United States’ current total lithium production level.
The company said that the tests proved the necessity for continuous processing of real brine at facilities sited immediately where the brine is pumped. “In traditional small-scale, short-term off-site batch processes … brine is isolated, transported and often undergoes physical and chemical changes before testing,” the release said. “Our Demo Plant handles real Smackover brine directly from the resource. The long-term operation of our Demo Plant has been crucial in replicating and understanding the real-world dynamic conditions of continuous commercial-scale operations. In addition, operating the Demo Plant for an extended period has allowed Standard Lithium and our Joint Development Partners, Koch Technology Solutions, to tailor and optimize all parts of the multi-step flowsheet that allow the Plant to be scaled-up for commercial production.
Standard Lithium President Andy Robinson said the company selected Smackover brines because they are used in existing commercial operations, including the production of bromine, and for its exceptional lithium grades. He called the Smackover Formation North America’s premium brine resource, comparable to those in Chile and Argentina.
“Systematically tackling the technical challenges of continuous operation and scaling-up has prepared us for a smoother transition to commercial production,” Robinson said in a statement. “Whilst we anticipate challenges, our extensive experience and knowledge, in combination with our technology partners and the expertise of our Plant’s engineers and operators, sets us up for success.”
He said the test plant’s performance near El Dorado exceeded company expectations sets Standard up to move forward with confidence. “We now have a tested and proven DLE technology and integrated flowsheet that we can apply across our series of world-class Smackover assets with our current and future partners.”