Lithium project developer E3 Metals has announced the results of a preliminary economic assessment (PEA) for its Clearwater lithium project, outlining plans to produce 20 000 t/y of battery-quality lithium hydroxide monohydrate (LHM) over 20 years.
The project has an aftertax net present value, at an 8% discount, of $819.9-million and the internal rate of return of 27%.
The PEA estimates that E3 will require initial capital of $602-million to build the Clearwater project, with a 3.4-year payback period.
The average operating cost is expected to be $73.2-million a year and the PEA is based on an average selling price of $14 079/t of LHM.
"The combination of electrochemically produced lithium hydroxide, targeted process re-cycle streams, and relatively low cost of energy in Alberta provides for a very attractive trade-off between opex and capex. This provides a robust opex capable of withstanding lithium hydroxide price fluctuations,” E3 president and CEO Chris Doornbos says.
Investors cheered the results of the PEA, with the company’s stock soaring to a high of C$1.73 a share, giving the developer a market capitalisation of C$42.89-million.
E3 says the project combines mature oil and gas industry expertise in Alberta with lithium production expertise. The PEA was prepared by Scovan Engineering, Noram Engineering and Constructors, GLJ and Fluid Domains.
The development plan includes three main process steps – brine production and pretreatment, direct lithium extraction and lithium production.
Based on geological data available from oil and gas operations in the Clearwater resource area, E3 says the lithium grade is expected to be consistent throughout the area. A series of well, drilled specifically to produce brine, shows it will be capable of producing 3 300 m3/d per well. At an average grade of 74.6 mg/L lithium, the project will move just over 128 000 m3/day of brine, with additional well production capacity in excess of this.
As E3’s propriety direct lithium extraction (DLE) processing does not evaporate the water contained within the brine, the lithium void brine is returned to the aquifer through a series of injection wells. The re-injection of lithium depleted brine will serve to maintain pressures and brine production rates in the aquifer. The brine production process step also includes pre-treatment for removal of H2S from the brine prior for delivery to the DLE process.
The DLE process deploys an ion-exchange process that is highly selective for lithium over competing cations in the brine.
In the lithium production step, the PEA includes several stages, the first of which is the further concentration of the Li-IX solution, followed by polishing steps to remove the remaining impurities. The solution is then fed into electrolysers where a highly pure lithium hydroxide solution is formed. From there, the lithium hydroxide solution is crystalised into lithium hydroxide salts. The crystalised lithium hydroxide is packaged and transported to a nearby rail network where it can be transported to eastern and western shipping ports for international distribution, or south for sale directly into the American market.