Standard Lithium started operations Monday (Sept. 21) at the company’s Arkansas LiSTR Direct Lithium Extraction facility in El Dorado with a virtual ribbon-cutting and video walk-through tour of the plant.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Senators John Boozman and Tom Cotton, U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, and local officials joined Standard Lithium CEO Robert Mintak and LANXESS Corp. CEO and President Antonis Papadourakis for the virtual event.
Lithium is a light and soft metal that in recent years has been a key component used in batteries. Lithium batteries are lighter than alkaline batteries, so they offer an advantage when used with portable devices and tools. Many battery-powered automakers and energy storage facilities are utilizing lithium due to its advantages.
Standard Lithium released a Preliminary Economic Assessment (PEA) in 2019 that estimated a potential $437 million economic impact on the region. It also estimated nearly 100 direct jobs associated with the project. The PEA was conducted by global engineering firm Worley Parsons. The report considered a multi-phase build-out approach and target production of 20,900 tons of lithium carbonate that would be extracted and converted from the current tail brine flowing at the project. It did not include indirect jobs or the employment numbers during construction, company officials tell Talk Business & Politics.
“It was always our intention to do a physical ribbon cutting at the end of the commissioning stage, but unfortunately that was not possible,” Mintak said. “The purpose of the virtual ribbon cutting is to highlight the efforts of individuals and teams that have brought the project to where we are today, an operating first-of-its-kind direct lithium extraction plant.”
The first-of-its-kind in the world Direct Lithium Extraction plant is installed at the company’s project partner, LANXESS’ South Plant facility in El Dorado. LiSTR is a technology that extracts lithium ions from tail brine that is a by-product of existing bromine production facilities run by LANXESS in south Arkansas.
“In the two short years since Patty Cardin of LANXESS introduced me to the team of Andy Robinson and Robert Mintak of Standard Lithium, the company has moved from a big concept to building a working, industrial-scale demonstration plant for direct lithium extraction,” Gov. Hutchinson said. “This cutting-edge disruptive technology has the potential to put Arkansas on the global map for lithium, a critical mineral for the United States economy.”
When compared to the conventional methods for recovering lithium from brine, the LiSTR process reduces recovery time and improves efficiency gains — 90% recovery versus 40-60%. The final product is purer and it will use Arkansas Smackover brines.
Planning for the project’s phased commercial development — with a target initial annual production of 20,900 tonnes of battery-quality lithium chemicals, roughly five times the current domestic production is currently underway.
The U.S. represents less than 2% of global lithium production and no new lithium mine has been built in the United States in almost 60 years. U.S. imports of lithium have nearly doubled since 2014 due in part to rising demand from Tesla, SK Innovation Co. and others building battery plants in the country, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.