Mineral Resources and the New Energy Economy
Silicon, lithium, cobalt, vanadium, even graphite – these and other elements found in naturally occurring minerals the world over loom large in the emerging “green” energy economy, and they carry growing weight in the national and international geopolitical calculus as a result. That's opening up new opportunities for enterprising mining and mineral resources companies, more particularly those capable of developing new, more environmentally safe and friendly mineral resource exploration, extraction and processing technologies.
A so-called “junior” mining company with shares listed on the Vancouver Stock Exchange, MGX Minerals is capitalizing on the new, “green” energy economy theme. Over the past year and more, management has acquired small, R&D-driven startups developing innovative silicon metal fabrication and “petrolithium” extraction/wastewater purification technology, as well as another in the final stages of an attempt to commercialize a zinc-oxygen flow battery energy storage system.
Energy Central spoke with MGX Minerals' CEO Jared Lazerson to gain insights regarding the company's mineral resources and clean-tech acquisitions and business development strategy and the broader significance of the “green” energy trend in the mineral resources sector.
Moving Up the “Green” Energy Value Chain
The acquisition of Vancouver-based ZyncNyx Energy Solutions from one of Canada's largest mining companies marked the latest in a string of strategic acquisitions made by MGX Minerals. As reported in part one of this two-part series, ZyncNyx has developed a modular (5kW-1MW), regenerative zinc-air flow battery energy storage system that MGX and ZyncNyx believe can help usher in a new era of low cost, decentralized and environmentally friendly renewable power and energy generation and use.
“By acquiring ZincNyx, MGX advances its mission of accelerating emerging energy and energy commodity technologies that disrupt the status quo...ZincNyx aims to bring energy storage to mass market through its patented zinc air technology, which offers lower-cost, long duration batteries capable of simultaneous charge and discharge,” MGX Minerals President and CEO Jared Lazerson said at the time.
“MGX is proud to be a part of a fundamental shift from traditional, high cost and difficult to acquire commodities such as lithium, vanadium and cobalt to low cost zinc in residential, remote and mass storage applications.”
The Price of Zinc
The price of zinc actually reached a new, decadal high of US$3,400 per metric tonne recently, Mining.com reported. Low treatment charges for [metal ore] concentrates, high market premiums for physical delivery of refined metal and low stockpiles are all contributing to a tight market, commented Michael Widmer, the head of metals research at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
“From the macro point of view, this is not an environment where you’d want to be shorting metals.”
“LME inventories fell for a 13th week, reaching the lowest level since October 2008. Shanghai exchange stocks have more than halved over the past year,” Mining.com's Frik Els pointed out.
Extracting Lithium and Producing Clean Water from Oilfield Production Wastewater
MGX also owns and has been acquiring mineral resources rights in Alberta, Utah and, most recently, in Chile at which it can apply a patented, new means of extracting lithium from oilfield brine and from mine tailings. MGX and engineering partner PurLucid Solutions created and are in the process of commercializing the process and technology.
The oil and gas field production water processing technology turns what has been considered toxic wastewater into valuable mineral resources. Significantly in terms of environmental and human health and safety, it purifies oil and gas field brine into water healthy enough to be used for irrigation, and even human consumption.
“Nearly 20 million barrels of oil and gas are produced daily throughout North America. The United States accounts for approximately 65% of this production followed by Canada and Mexico at 25% and 10%, respectively,” MGX points out.
“As oilfields age the brine-to-O&G ratios rise exponentially. It is estimated that for every unit of O&G produced 4-5 units of brine are pumped. Thus, the North American O&G industry generates an estimated 80-100 million barrels of brine daily.”
Final Stage of Commercialization
In the final stage of commercializing the technology, MGX is in the process of building an initial petro-lithium wastewater processing facility with the capacity to process the equivalent of 7,500 barrels (315,000 gallons) a day of petroleum brine. Coincidentally, MGX is increasing its stake in PurLucid, part and parcel of obtaining a matching grant from the Canadian government to see the project through to fruition.
*Courtesy Lux Research
Applied in mineral-rich, desert regions such as Chile's Atacama, the process holds out the promise of boosting incomes and the economy while at the same time opening up the prospect of irrigating the desert and developing a local agricultural economy, Lazerson noted.
“We're taking toxic, brackish wastewater and removing the hydrocarbons and minerals to produce clean water. We have created a robust, heavy-duty industrial process that for the first time can have a net environmental benefit,” Lazerson told Energy Central.
In addition to extracting high-grade lithium from oilfield brine, mine tailings and lithium salt evaporation ponds, MGX and PurLucid are exploring opportunities to purfity wastewater at geothermal power sites, MGX's CEO added.
“When you're exploring opportunities to create disruptive, game changing technologies, necessity is the mother of invention,” Lazerson said during the interview. “We started out as a small company with one magnesium project in BC (British Columbia).
“Then we moved into Alberta and tested for lithium in oilfield brine. Results topped out at around 70 or 80 ppm (parts per million),” a level MGX and PurLucid now consider to be the threshold or economic viability, Lazerson explained.
MGX and PurLucid are finding better prospects as they progress southwards. “We moved down into the States and tested out at 150-200 ppm, a level where we can be really profitable,” Lazerson said. Prospects look better still in Argentina, Bolivia and Chile, where lithium brine concentrations have come in north of 500 ppm, he noted.