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A1 Lithium announces its project’s estimated low water use

Salt Lake City—Water use estimates at A1 Lithium’s proposed lithium-extraction project in southern Utah are lower than expected, coming in at 200 to 250 acre-feet each year.  A1 Lithium, a subsidiary of Australian-listed Anson Resources (ASX: ASN), project is producing lithium for the U.S. lithium-ion battery market that is anticipated to continue its rapid growth as the country transitions to electric vehicles.

“The water-usage study results are very encouraging,” said A1 Lithium CEO Bruce Richardson. “We realize how precious water is in our arid environment and we’ve worked hard to reduce water use in every step of our process. We’re also striving in other ways to make our project as environmentally responsible and sustainable as possible.” 

The water-use findings are part of a “definitive feasibility study,” which considered the water “mass balance” of inputs and outputs. The study focused on the recovery and recycling of the water that was used in the process. The closed in system uses substantially less than the traditional method of recovering lithium from brines using solar evaporation where the water is only used once in the process system. In the design developed by A1 and its technology partners, 95 percent of the water used in the process is recycled.

A1 Lithium estimates it will be able to initially produce around 10,000 tons of lithium carbonate per year from the project, which will create about 500 jobs during construction and 100 full-time jobs when in production, as well as provide new beneficial tax revenue.

Paradox Basin’s Potential Lithium Reserves Are Substantial

Since 2017, A1 Lithium has been researching the Paradox Basin area in southern Utah and conducting engineering studies to get its project up and running.

The Paradox Basin brine reservoir was discovered by the oil industry in the 1960s. A remnant of a historic inland ocean, the brine reservoir sits at about 6,500 feet below the earth’s surface. It is separated from the oil reservoirs and freshwater aquifers by numerous thick layers of impermeable salt layers and sandstone units. Water aquifers in the area are located at 100 feet to 200 feet in depth; the brine reservoir is more than a mile further underground and the oil units a further 1,000 feet below the brine.

A1 Lithium has re-entered four non-producing oil wells for its exploration work, which has reduced the working footprint as the access tracks, drill pads and wells are still in place resulting in minimal new ground disturbance.

Here’s how the process works:

  • Natural pressure from the brine reservoir will bring the brine to the surface. No pumping is needed, so there will be a lower carbon footprint.
  • In fact, the pressure is so great that the project may be able to produce hydropower from the brine coming up before the lithium ions are removed. 
  • Once the brine is brought to the surface, it is put into a tank with an absorbent material that looks like instant coffee. The brine sits in the tank for six hours while the lithium ions are absorbed into the material. The tiny size of one lithium ion is similar to removing one grain of sand from a gallon of seawater. 
  • After six hours, approximately 100 percent of the brine is pumped back into the reservoir deep within the earth, less the lithium. This is considered a “non-consumptive” use of the brine as what is extracted is returned in a “closed loop” system.
  • The lithium absorbent in the tank is then rinsed with fresh water, and this lithium-rich water is piped to a closed system to remove the lithium ions and to an evaporator, which reclaims the water to be used for rinsing the lithium from the absorbent in the next batch.

The brine from which lithium is extracted is not drinkable and cannot be used for agriculture or any other purpose due to its high salt content. The brine deposits were created by flooding from as many as 29 inland seas that inundated the area at different times over millions of years. The minerals it contains were highly concentrated, including lithium, by solar evaporation of these seas, before being sealed from each other by other soil, sand, rock, and other materials as the earth was formed into its current state.

A1 Lithium’s process recovers at least 90 percent of the water it uses to recover the lithium from the absorbent. This water comes from the river and passes through reverse osmosis filters before it is used. This water is not returned to the river but recycled through the lithium extraction process. The company desires to further reduce the amount of river water used by the process and is conducting engineering studies with the intent of increasing water recovery and recycling to above 95 percent.

Two Project Sites Being Considered

A1 Lithium is considering two sites in the area for its lithium project and is working on engineering studies for both. One site is located near Intrepid’s Moab potash mine and processing facility, and the other site is further northwest, near Interstate 70 and the City of Green River. The Green River location, on the site of a former uranium enrichment mill, is most likely the site that A1 Lithium will pursue for the project.

“Both proposed production sites seem to have everything we will need. The area near Intrepid potash plant has seen ground disturbance and industrial development while the Green River site provides us the ability to repurpose a brownfield development area, that is a site which has previously been used for industrial purposes. The objective here is to minimize new environmental disturbance.” said Richardson.

Where The Rinsing Water Comes From

For both potential sites, A1 Lithium has acquired up to 2,000 acre-feet of agricultural water rights from Green River Corporation and the Wayne County Water Conservancy District. This is not a new water allocation but a repurposed water allocation. At the Green River site, the right to divert up to an additional 500 acre-feet of water rights came with A1 Lithium’s purchase of the property.  Please note that these are the amounts of water that A1 Lithium has access to, they are not the amounts that will be used in the process. According to the mass balance definitive feasibility study, A1 will use less than 10 percent of these water rights.  

Other “Water Rights” Applied For

A1 Lithium has applied for two non-consumptive “water rights” for the extraction of brine from the Utah Division of Water Rights, one for each of the proposed selected production sites. The brine industry is so new that the permits A1 Lithium was seeking were placed in the category of water rights and not brine extraction. 

Environmentally Responsible and Sustainable

 “We believe how we are approaching our project sets us apart,” said Richardson.  “Our process is efficient, we use less water than other manufacturing and lithium mining operations, we produce less carbon dioxide than hard rock mining and brine evaporation ponds, we are utilizing existing structures and land usage areas smartly to reduce our footprint, and we are using a closed loop process so there is no risk of accidental spills.”

“Because the lithium we are extracting will go into electric vehicles, and the whole point of them is to have a lower impact on the environment, we’re operating from that same point of view,” said Richardson.

Where We Are In The Process

“We plan to complete all our studies this year and will then move to have the financing put into place and will start construction once the financing is complete. It will take about two and half years to build the project,” said Richardson.

A1 Lithium is putting in place a pilot project at the Green River site that it hopes to have operational later this spring. This pilot project will provide Anson with more data and allow them to take people on tours to learn more about the project.