Lithium Test Plant in El Dorado Operating 24/7

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A Canadian company working to mine battery-grade lithium from the underground saltwaters of south Arkansas reports that its $10 million testing plant near El Dorado is fully operational.

Standard Lithium of Vancouver, British Columbia, announced the operational milestone Tuesday at the first-of-a-kind plant that ties onto the bromine extraction infrastructure of global chemical company Lanxess. Standard Lithium and Lanxess are venture partners in testing a process in which Standard’s test facility at the Lanxess South plant southwest of El Dorado takes brine already stripped of bromine by Lanxess and then extracts lithium from it through a new proprietary process.

The 24/7 operation of the modular test facility met Standard’s timeline in spite of precautions required by the COVID-19 pandemic, Standard CEO Robert Mintak said.

His eventual goal is to build an industrial-scale lithium extraction facility on the scale of a water treatment plant, producing lithium to fuel batteries in electric cars, Tesla Walls, computers and cellphones. Additional plants could be added to the pipeline as lithium demands increase, Mintak has said.

“Standard Lithium’s project team in Arkansas is now commencing a series of systematic optimisation exercises to fine-tune the plant and investigate how performance can be improved further,” Standard Lithium said Tuesday in a statement relying on Canadian spellings.

Anno Borkowsky, overseeing the lithium project for the Lanxess board, said in a statement that “from our point of view, all steps have gone very well so far.” He said he expects Lanxess and Standard, “two strong partners with great experience in the world of chemical engineering,” to fully exploit “all the possibilities of this project.”

“We’ve designed the business plan to make it as fast into production as possible with minimum risk,” Mintak, Standard’s CEO, told Arkansas Business last year. He said the Lanxess partnership “allowed us to avoid years of development, resource discovery and definition, permitting and further exploration work because they already have a resource and infrastructure we could piggyback on. We came to Arkansas, and fortune shined on us.”

In a news release Tuesday, Mintak acknowledged “the impressive efforts made both by our Arkansas and Canadian engineering teams in adapting to the extraordinary challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Andy Robinson, Standard’s president and COO, said that COVID precautions had slowed some commissioning work, but he praised team leader Bruce Seitz for keeping the process moving. Seitz “has done a fantastic job to safely and effectively get the plant commissioned and transition it into full-time operation,” Robinson said in the release.

Two contractors, Milam Construction of El Dorado and Hunt Guillot & Associates LLC of Ruston, Louisiana, helped put together the 12 pieces of the modular plant on newly poured concrete at the Lanxess site.

The brine used in the project was once an unwanted byproduct of oil drilling in the region. But in the 1950s chemists testing the waters discovered bromine, prized in making flame retardants. Bromine quickly became one of Arkansas’ top three mineral resources, along with petroleum and natural gas, and the state now leads the world in bromine production.

“The ability of Standard Lithium to execute on its important corporate objectives has been significantly enhanced as a result of a strong relationship with its project partner, Lanxess,” Mintak said in a statement. “The successful commissioning and operation of our LiSTR extraction technology represent a significant milestone towards proof of concept and a final investment decision for our Arkansas project.”