The solar+storage revolution isn’t quite here yet. To arrive, there will need to be a more economical, efficient battery option for homeowners. There is this option in between lead acid and lithium-ion that is in a nice sweet spot right now, but it feels like the world is waiting for those lithium ion prices to drop.
“We are in the beginning of a long term cycle of significant lithium demand growth and are ending a cycle of significant underinvestment in lithium supply,” says Joe Lowry, one of the most respected names in the lithium sphere. “No matter what certain experts say – supply and demand are NOT in balance. If the market is adequately supplied, why are we having the current price run-up?”
Does Pure Energy have the answer? Simply put, lithium supply is not coming online fast enough to keep up with demand. New supply from places like Argentina, where lithium is extracted using older technology, will not come online until at least 2020. This leaves hard rock operations and innovators like Pure Energy to pick up the slack.
While Tesla has set the standard for electric vehicles and has forged ahead with the largest lithium ion battery factory in the world, Pure Energy has started forging ahead with a new production method for lithium. Here’s what they are doing.
Combining the Best Attributes of Hard Rock and Brine Operations
In the lithium world, there are two primary natural sources from which lithium is extracted: spodumene and brine. While lithium brine operations tend to be lower cost, they suffer from a lot of inefficiencies and take years to ramp up. The sun’s evaporation is a huge bottleneck in production schedules, while hard rock deposits are only limited by mine construction schedules.
Recently, Pure Energy and its partner in development, Tenova Bateman Technologies (TBT), achieved a breakthrough in the successful testing of their unique method of lithium brine processing. The three-step process – which includes pre-treatment, solvent extraction, and electrolysis – goes from mineral in the ground to final lithium hydroxide without the need for evaporation ponds. More to the point, the new process could allow Pure Energy to launch operations just as fast as hard rock miners, while producing at costs comparable to brine operations.
Ahead of the Nevada Junior Crowd
Many of the lithium juniors in the continental U.S. are just getting their feet wet, getting funding to determine scope and magnitude of resource estimates, while already Pure Energy has obtained results from its Phase 3 drilling program.
The company has started to move to the economic study portion of its development, with its Preliminary Economic Assessment (PEA) due in the next few months. While most companies are looking to delineate their resources and understand what, if anything, they are actually sitting on, Pure Energy is looking further down the road, already eyeing a reduction in start-up time through its unique extraction process.
With the PEA planned to be issued soon, Pure Energy is well on its way to becoming the first junior in the U.S. to move from mineral resources to reserves. Having already engaged in the permitting process, it’s also on track to be the first to obtain a permit to build a mine.
So not only is Pure Energy sitting on more than 11,000 acres in the heart of the lithium land rush at Clayton Valley, Nevada-adjacent to North America’s only producing lithium mine-but it’s also way ahead of the game here and it’s likely to be the first out of the gate for new production.
It’s not coincidental, either. This is a company with zero debt, a strong balance sheet and a dream team of individuals with an impressive combination of experience in discovery, hydrogeology, lithium processing, project development, fundraising, as well as mergers and acquisitions.
Pure Energy’s Clayton Valley South Project has an inferred mineral resource of 816,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate equivalent, and its processing breakthrough gives it an edge in the race to become the next major supplier in a market that is panicked over new supply.
Grid Storage: The Battery Market’s Underdog
The largest potential market for Lithium is grid storage-and this is a wildcard that is just getting started. To date, the U.S. Department of Energy has listed almost 750 grid-level storage projects coming in at around 2,400 tonnes of lithium carbonate.
Until now, most electric storage favored pumped storage, with the pumped storage capacity coming in at 60 times the grid-level battery storage. However, the pump-turbine efficiency lowers potential output by around 70% of input, while batteries can operate closer to 98%. As the price of water goes up and fewer favorable geographies can be found, batteries will come into favor over pumped storage. This suggests a huge potential increase for grid storage batteries, without considering the effects of increased wind and solar power.
— Solar Builder magazine