Oil well. Photo: Pxhere.com
13 Jan 2020

North America´s oil field waste could get mined for lithium to EV batteries


Even though many companies are doing research for better, cheaper and greener battery technology, lithium is still the most common raw material in EV batteries, despite its inherent fire hazard. Now waste from the Canadian tar sands could be a viable way to mine for litium in a more environmentally friendly way.

According to the Canadian news service CBC, there's 3.6 million tonnes of lithium in Alberta so companies are now seriously considering this untapped potential.

Lithium is, according to the CBC article, a growing market, expected by some estimates to reach up to $100 billion in the next decade.

Mining the metal can be harmful to the environment, and currently Canadian companies are developing greener extraction methods by partnering with the oil and gas industry.

The existing infrastructure isn't the only advantage. The Leduc Formation, the source of Alberta's first big oil boom, is also a rich lithium deposit. There are about 3.6 million tonnes of lithium in the province, according to the Canadian Lithium Association.

"Working with the oil and gas industry we can take advantage of the infrastructure already existing in Alberta," said Amanda Hall, president of Summit Nanotech.

Hall's company uses nanotechnology, a science that works with materials at the molecular or atomic level, to selectively filter lithium out of the wasted saltwater brine used in oil wells.

"Lithium demand is going up in the near future because of electric vehicles … so the demand for our technology is also growing," she said.

Her company hopes to test the tech on oilfield sites by the end of this year, and once they're up and running, will set up modular units near well heads to filter out the metal.

Daniel Alessi, an associate professor at the University of Alberta, said  "while any resource extraction technology will have some degree of a negative footprint, there are options to utilize wasted natural gas or even geothermal energy to power the extraction".

"The big question these days is whether it's going to be economically feasible," he said. 


The cover photo above is for illustration purposes only, and shows a generic oil well. The equipment and landscape shown is not connected to this article. Photo: Pxhere.com