Upcoming Division Talk 

Subsurface Brines and the Potential for a new Canadian Lithium Industry
Eric Pelletier | Canadian Lithium Association 
Location: geoLOGIC Room (2nd Floor), Aquitaine Tower, 540-5th Avenue S.W., Calgary
October 8, 2019, 12:00noon 

*CSPG members can register for free and track their CPD hours!

Lithium has garnered significant interest over the last decade to now being ubiquitously associated with lithium ion batteries – a key component in energy storage technologies. These storage solutions are necessary to better utilizing renewable energy sources as a means to decarbonize energy production. With such an important role in these systems and the growing demand from electric vehicles, lithium sales are set to grow rapidly. In 2018 these were $4 billion USD with many forecasts pointing to over $30 billion USD by 2030. Although batteries are continually evolving, lithium is expected to continue as a dominant component in current and next generation batteries due to it’s unique electrochemical properties allowing higher battery energy densities. Current supplies of lithium originate from two deposit types: hard rock mines and concentrated lithium brines. Mining for mineral forms of lithium requires heavy machinery to lift and crush ore and the application of high temperatures, pressures and caustic reagents to extract the lithium. Lithium brines are processed using evaporation ponds which require huge tracts of land, are prone to leaks and weather setbacks and take 2 years to concentrate before producing lithium products. Global supply of raw lithium products is geographically concentrated and dominated by Chile, Argentina, Australia, and China with China enjoying a near monopoly on refining to produce higher battery grade products.

Canada has an opportunity to capture part of this supply chain as there is a significant gap between leaders in these chains and North American supplies. This is especially evident in the recent declaration from the United States that lithium now represents a key strategic mineral essential for nations’ future energy independence. Canada has only started to understand it’s inventory of lithium resources, but it is evident that subsurface brines in western provinces present a potentially unique and elegant resource in jurisdictions with existing oil and gas infrastructure and expertise. These brines occur within reservoirs which are or have produced oil and gas as well as certain “virgin” or untapped dedicated formation waters. Early work suggests there are relationships with other elements which may serve as useful proxies in further assessing these resources. The brines themselves are typically chloride dominated and lower in lithium concentration (50 – 200 mg/L) than their counterparts in South America (300 – 3000 mg/L) yet exist in vastly larger volumes which amount to a comparable resource in place. In this respect, one can draw a similar parallel between lithium brines and the oil and gas industry’s conventional vs. unconventional resources. In the case of lithium, the higher concentration resources of South America are analogous to the conventional, higher concentration resource vs. the North American subsurface brine resources representing a more dilute unconventional resource unlocked by advances in technology. In addition to presenting a lithium resource, there exists potential for a myriad of uses for subsurface brines such as pairing these with geothermal and other trace element recovery methods tapping into a broad potential value chain.

To facilitate such an industry, Canada faces a number of hurdles which can only begin to be addressed through broader understanding and conversation about these resources and their potential. Technology is under development to better access these more dilute resources yet many of these parties have until recently operated in relative silos possibly hindering progress. Problematically, lithium in brines currently falls within a grey area in terms of regulatory framework. Some jurisdictions leave the rights under existing metallic mineral claims which are not designed for such a resource while others enact new frameworks which misunderstand the nascent state of this industry and ultimately serve as prohibitive barriers to entry for proponents. Despite the often long timelines for resource development, a window of opportunity is surfacing and proponents of such an industry are hopeful that with the right conversations and early consultations and research, Canada could become an important producer of lithium and a leader in state of the art technologies for it’s extraction.

Eric grew up in Calgary and had an early introduction to geology through his father who worked as a geologist in Calgary and abroad. Like many who had geologist parents, Eric was raised in a passionately outdoorsy family which would spend every weekend in the mountains with dad lecturing about the rocks in the area... This sparked a very early passion for earth science and tangentially energy systems which lead Eric to complete a B.Sc. in Geology at Mount Royal University as part of the first graduating class in the new program in 2012. In addition to summers working in gold exploration internships in northern Quebec, Eric then worked for a hydrogeology consultancy firm in Calgary for a year and a half focussed on groundwater monitoring and sourcing programs for many SAGD projects in Northern Alberta. As economic downturn loomed, Eric sought additional education at the University of Calgary where he completed his M.Sc. in Carbonate sedimentology under the supervision of Dr. Benoit Beauchamp in 2016. Here Eric was exposed to extremely remote field work in the Sverdrup Basin of Arctic Canada and developed a keen understanding of carbonate facies, reservoir properties, basin analysis and geochemistry. Eric maintained his interests in the link between earth science and energy solutions and found his way into the topic of lithium in subsurface brine near the end of his masters. As many of these prospective brines were hosted in carbonate reservoirs, they represented a niche marriage between his hydrogeology background and carbonate reservoir proficiencies. Through networking and activity at various conferences, Eric went forward to serve as one of the founding members and executives of LiEP Energy Ltd., a start-up in Calgary geared towards North American lithium brine plays and developing requisite lithium extraction technology. Eric is also a founding board member for the nascent Canadian Lithium Association which aims to raise awareness and inform policy on the potential of a lithium industry in Canada. Outside of work, Eric is an avid mountain biker and outdoor enthusiast who maintains involvement at local trail organizations.

Talk space generously provided by:

Division Profile

The new CSPG Hydrogeology Division was launched in November, 2015, with the following mandate:

  • To promote the crucial importance of water in energy production; 
  • To profile existing/emerging technologies/markets; 
  • To educate CSPG members and public at large on water resources;
  • To assist/guide the content of hydrogeology sessions at GeoConvention; and
  • To foster collaboration, knowledge transfer and cross-division linkages with the CSPG
The goal is for the Division meetings to be held once a month over the lunch hour (monthly meeting to be scheduled from October to May, no talks from June to September). All lunch talks are free and open to the public, and please bring your lunch. 

The success of the Division depends on the participation and volunteer efforts of CSPG members and the public at large. If you are interested in giving a presentation, or in learning more about the Division, please contact Steve Sturrock at ssturrock@waterlineresources.com

Committee Members

Chair: Steve Sturrock- ssturrock@waterlineresources.com