MGX Minerals to extract lithium from wastewater with new treatment system
MGX Minerals’ engineering subsidiary PurLucid Treatment Solutions has shipped its first petrolithium and advanced wastewater treatment system. This system extracts lithium from wastewater produced during oil and gas production.
MGX saw that the mining industry was facing two problems. “One was the rising demand for lithium from the clean-tech industry, and the limitations of existing extraction methods to meet this demand,” MGX Minerals CEO Jared Lazerson told InnovOil. “While lithium is abundant, conventional lithium extraction can take months or even years to produce lithium ready for use.
“At the same time, oil companies throw out huge quantities of lithium every day, through the disposal of mineral-rich petroleum brine, which they pump up from underground along with petroleum.
“So we began to explore how to recover some of that lithium. We eventually partnered with PurLucid, whose nanofiltration technology can not only unlock previously unrecoverable lithium, but also remove other pollutants from oilfield wastewater, yielding recycled water suitable for reuse or safe disposal. We thought: what if oil companies could not only treat water for reuse, but find a way to extract and sell that lithium?”
Lazerson estimated that, while the concentrations of lithium in oilsands wastewater are variable, they can reach over 100 ppm of lithium.
The system will treat once-through steam generator (OTSG) boiler blowdown brine, which represents the largest water loss at steam assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) facilities.
The petrolithium system will treat water suitable for reuse, saving the majority of water loss and greatly reducing both the complexity and cost for new and expansion SAGD projects.
“The core of the technology is a nanofiltration process that can be broken down into several steps,” Lazerson explained. “First, proprietary chemicals are added to the produced water to collapse the Electric Double Layer (EDL) surrounding solid particles. EDL refers to layers of charges surrounding certain solid particles, such as those found in milk or mud, that keep them suspended in liquid.
“When the EDL collapses, the particles become unsuspended and separate from the surrounding liquid. The result is a clean permeate that is ready for removal of finer particles.
“Next, the nanoflotation process removes all oil hydrocarbons from the wastewater, as well as silica, magnesium and calcium. Unlike other filtration methods, the system can be operated in high temperatures and pressures, saving energy costs incurred in cooling wastewater (a significant energy expense for oil sands operators using steam-assisted gravity drainage).
“To isolate the mineral, the water is treated with a patented chemical treatment that increases the concentration of lithium in the water. Finally, the water goes through ultrafiltration using a patented replaceable skin layer (RSL) membrane system. The final result is [a] substance that has isolated the valuable mineral we want: lithium.”
The petrolithium system will start off processing five cubic metres of wastewater per hour. MGX plans to deploy systems that can process 10 and 20 cubic metres of wastewater per hour in the future. “We expect to increase production of lithium as we scale and expand to new markets,” Lazerson added.
MGX’s lithium extraction technology is capable of greatly reducing or even outright eliminating the physical footprint and investment in large, multi-phase, lake-sized, lined evaporation ponds. It is also capable of enhancing the quality of extraction and recovery across a complex range of brines as compared with traditional solar evaporation.
While PurLucid’s technology was designed to extract lithium primarily from oil and gas wastewater (petrolithium), it also works on natural brine and other brine sources such as lithium-rich mine and industrial plant wastewater.
Lazerson said that the demand for lithium would be driven by the demand for lithium-ion batteries, which are used in electric vehicles (EVs), energy storage, and consumer electronics. “Lithium demand is expected to almost double by 2027, and mining companies are already struggling to ramp up supply to meet demand from battery makers,” he said.
“With the potential for bottlenecks in the supply chain, rapid lithium extraction technology is likely to shake up the market because it is faster, cheaper, and much better for the environment.”
The petrolithium system will be located at a centralised treatment and processing facility north of Edmonton, close to the Alberta oilsands. From there, PurLucid will be able to receive wastewater brine from multiple clients.
On November 7, MGX announced that they had begun manufacturing the nanofiltration membrane housing. The next step will be to begin fabricating the primary nanoflotation, piping and structural components, which is scheduled to begin in the second half of November.
Control systems are expected to commence fabrication in December.
“We believe the ability to recycle wastewater, extract its valuable contents, and sell minerals in a growing market will create opportunities to expand to other types of oil and gas extraction, such as fracking,” Lazerson said.