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Boasting Europe’s largest lithium resource, Vulcan Energy Resources has a central position close to the growing lithium-ion battery (LIB) and electric vehicle (EV) markets in Germany, plus the lowest carbon dioxide (CO2) intensity and water usage of all lithium projects globally.

And now, Vulcan has a lithium extraction process that’s been proven to work on its geothermal brine — a major milestone in delivering on its goal of supplying Europe with net Zero Carbon Lithium.

EV set to be deployed on a massive scale in the 2020s, creating a huge market for LIB, and battery-quality lithium.

However, LIBs have a dirty little secret — their supply chains are notoriously carbon intensive.

This is especially true in Europe — the heart of the world’s fastest growing EV and LIB industries — where lithium is transported to manufacturers from environmentally damaging hard-rock mining or salar type brines operations in Australia, China and the Americas. This generates significantly more CO2 emissions than the manufacture of traditional internal combustion engine vehicles.

Bench-scale test work at Vulcan’s project has demonstrated more than 90 per cent lithium recoveries via direct lithium extraction (DLE) from its geothermal brines. Using real brine at ambient pressure from the Upper Rhine Valley, Vulcan produced lithium chloride (LiCl) concentrates using techniques similar to other commercial and near-commercial lithium brine projects.

Thus, proving up the commercially mature extraction technology’s effectiveness for Upper Rhine Valley geothermal brines, and significantly de-risking the project.

While Vulcan is the first to bring this technology to Europe, and Upper Rhine Valley brines specifically, lithium has been extracted using DLE at commercial scale for decades in Argentina.

DLE has been proven to operate economically by Livent at its Fénix Project in Argentina, but this is not widely known. Neither is the fact that DLE is a more preferred, even ethical, way to produce lithium from brines than from evaporation ponds which have negative impacts on water resources.

Furthermore, as environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors become increasingly important considerations for investors, multinational corporations are coming under pressure to improve their ESG credentials. This extends to automakers in Europe, including Volkswagen, Tesla, and BMW who will be feeling this pressure, not only from investors, but in meeting more stringent government legislation too. The result will be pressure on EV and LIB supply chains to clean up their act.

Zero Carbon Lithium

Vulcan’s world-first first Zero Carbon Lithium process extracts battery-grade lithium from geothermal brines, a process which also provides a renewable energy source to power the extraction process.

Via an advanced DLE process, paired with low-carbon power/heat from geothermal energy production, Vulcan will extract lithium from geothermal brines to produce premium, battery quality Zero Carbon Lithium hydroxide using readily available heat and power. This is a closed system where brine is re-injected into the reservoir with no evaporation losses:

Schematic of Zero Carbon Lithium Process – producing lithium and power from geothermal heat

This zero carbon, or CO2-neutral, development of Europe’s lithium deposits is crucial for a sustainable and strong European battery industry and will bring the EU significantly closer to meeting its 2030 climate goals.

The CO2 intensity of Vulcan’s project is in fact the lowest compared to any lithium project worldwide:

Li-ion battery supply chain

Zero carbon or not, Germany is missing an important piece of the LIB supply chain. While well advanced in the latter stages from cathode manufacture through to the EV market, the country lacks the ‘lithium deposit to concentrate’ and ‘lithium processing to battery chemical’ stages of the supply chain:

The Payne Institute for Public Policy

The European Union is working on building an environmentally sustainable European LIB supply chain ahead of the anticipated surge in demand for EV.

Vulcan has partnered with EIT InnoEnergy, the innovation engine for sustainable energy across the European Union, which includes accelerating innovation and commercialisation along the entire battery value chain.

EIT InnoEnergy will assist Vulcan in obtaining and fast-tracking licences, developing relationships with lithium off-takers in Europe’s auto and battery industries, and securing project funding.

Europe has enough lithium — the Vulcan Project alone hosts a globally significant 13.95 Mt contained lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE), Europe’s largest JORC lithium resource. Of this, 13.2 million tonnes LCE is in the JORC Inferred category on its 100 per cent-owned Ortenau license.

The now demonstrated 90 per cent-plus lithium recovery rate is a major step in proving that VUL’s geothermal brines can be a major source of lithium hydroxide for Europe’s LIB production sector — all while emitting net zero carbon.

London-based Natural Resources Global Capital Partners (NRG) has been appointed to provide strategic and financial advice in connection with the Vulcan Zero Carbon Lithium Project.

NRG is an independent advisory firm and merchant bank focused on the global metals and energy industries and is led by Julian Vickers, ex-global co-head of natural resources investment banking for Barclays.

Vulcan is now working on further optimising the lithium extraction process, completing its pre-feasibility study (PFS) by year end with the DFS to follow, ahead of first commercial scale production targeted for 2023.