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Mangrove positioning to benefit from lithium extraction

Growing interest in lithium extraction from produced water could lead to a greater oil & gas focus for the Canadian technology provider.

After joining Chevron Technology Ventures’ Catalyst Program earlier this year, Vancouver-based Mangrove Water Technologies is in growth mode. The startup is now preparing to hire more employees and gearing up to deploy its first commercial-scale module to treat basal aquifer water at an oil sands mine for a prominent Canadian operator. The field pilot is expected to take place in the 2021/22 period and will run for six to eight weeks, treating 100 cubic meters of water per day (m3/d).

Mangrove’s modular technology combines ion-selective membranes with electrodialysis and fuel cell technology to convert the sodium chloride present in basal aquifer water, produced water and brackish groundwater into sodium hydroxide and hydrochloric acid. The process creates an effluent stream with salinity below 3,000 ppm. The byproducts can be used onsite, reducing operational costs by offsetting operators’ expenditures on brine management, chemicals and logistics.

The company has been testing the use of this treatment process on various brines with different end users at its 4 m3/d demonstration site in Vancouver.

“Once we’ve identified high-value sites for Mangrove, we work with end users to validate the technology. Successful validation of the technology allows us to work with customers to price the technology where a business case makes sense for both Mangrove and the customer,” co-founder and CEO Saad Dara told WiO.

The company initially developed the technology with the idea of treating produced water and addressing disposal challenges. However, it became apparent that the value proposition for conventional oil & gas projects would be reduced, as those do not have onsite demand for the chemical byproducts generated by its treatment process. As a result, Mangrove has become more focused on the treatment of brackish and aquifer water and is pivoting towards lithium brines as well.

“Operators are working with direct extraction technology and there are companies working on that with ion exchange resins or selective adsorption technologies,” Daara explained. “These technologies produce lithium chloride or lithium sulfate from non-conventional brines like geothermal or petrobrines. Ultimately, the product lithium chloride or sulfate still needs to be converted to a lithium hydroxide or lithium carbonate, and that is where Mangrove comes in.”

Mangrove is now actively seeking to partner with asset owners using direct lithium extraction technologies to convert their products into battery-grade lithium hydroxide or carbonate. Using its technology for this application is particularly appealing at a time when there has been increasing interest in lithium extraction from produced water and geothermal brines, especially in the US.

Although the startup’s focus on oil & gas has been reduced – now only 5-10% on conventional developments and 30-40% on both open pit and in-situ oil sands – Daara says this could change as interest grows in the extraction of lithium from produced water. That would undoubtedly change the economics of treating produced water with Mangrove’s technology.

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