Could Northeast B.C. one day be home to a lithium industry?
A new research collaboration aims to find out as scientists ready to collect up to 500 saltwater samples from currently producing natural gas and oil wells in an effort to analyze and map lithium concentrations in the region.
The collaboration includes Geoscience BC, LithiumBank, and the Northern Development Initiative Trust. In a joint-release issued Wednesday, the partners note similar research in Alberta and Saskatchewan has not only shown promise for extracting lithium from saltwater brines, but that it has also led to significant investment and economic development.
“This research is the first step in identifying if brines found in the region may be enriched with enough lithium to make extraction viable,” said Geoscience BC President and CEO Gavin C. Dirom. “It is innovative research with the potential to spur a new industry in northeast British Columbia.”
Lithium is one of 31 minerals included on Canada's list of critical minerals, which the government says are essential for clean technology and renewable energy such as batteries for electric cars and other devices, magnets, solar panels, and wind turbines.
The federal government says lithium will be ”critical for the sustainable economic success" of the country, and the project partners point to a World Bank report forecasting demand for lithium could grow by as much as 500% by 2050.
“Electrification and the green energy transition are bringing opportunities for all Canadians throughout the battery supply chain, of which lithium is a critical component,” said Rob Shewchuk, chairman and CEO of LithiumBank. “This collaboration will inform exploration for lithium in northeast BC, and will help conversations with industry, government, communities and Indigenous groups.”
Samples will be collected from up to 12 different subsurface formations, and analyzed for a full suite of physical and chemical parameters. Key analysis outputs will identify concentrations of lithium, boron, bromine and iodine, as well as a full suite of other elements and water properties, the project partners said.
Data will be used to produce maps for the sampled formations, grading areas with significant potential for extraction and eventual processing.
“Northern Development is pleased to support a project that could result in significant long term economic benefits in the region,” said NDIT CEO Joel McKay. “As demand for electric vehicles continues to grow so does the demand for lithium and the potential to create a new industry while utilizing the infrastructure and a highly trained workforce that already exists within the Northeast region.”
Australia is the biggest producer of the world's lithium supply, mining lithium ore. Chile and Argentina are also major producers, extracting lithium brine.
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