CleanTechnica: How do you characterize your company — is it a tech company, a mining company, or a combination into something greater?
Robert Mintak: We’re in the midst of a clean energy transition and we need to consider what defines mining and how the application of new technologies can reduce the environmental impact of mineral extraction. Standard is a technology company first and what separates us from our peers is our approach to technology development is project focused. That way you design a process that will not only work in a lab but also will scale commercially while meeting or exceeding the projects regulatory and stakeholder requirements. This way we can best address the numerous challenges faced when building a lithium project and demonstrate that extraction and sustainability are not exclusive of each other.
CleanTechnica: Tell us about Standard Lithium’s Direct Lithium Extraction (DLE) process, please.
Robert Mintak: Standard’s approach has been focused on using a modern technology-based approach to extract lithium not just faster but producing a higher purity product and reducing the environmental footprint associated with that. Using the Steve Jobs approach of working backwards toward the technology development, the project drives the process. That principal has been fundamental to our team when developing our proprietary LiSTR DLE process (LiSTR is an acronym for “lithium stirred tank reactor”). Through agreements and strategic partnerships with the existing brine operators in Arkansas, we were able to access large volumes of brine that allowed us to immediately begin process test work. Having access to real, not synthetic, brine in large volumes shaved years off our timeline and saved untold millions of dollars that would otherwise have gone into exploration, permitting, resource development work and infrastructure. Instead, we put that money toward developing a tailored extraction technology built for the characteristics of Smackover brine.
The LiSTR process uses a stable/fine-grained solid ceramic adsorbent material with a crystal lattice that under certain PH conditions is capable of selectively pulling lithium ions from brine and releasing lithium for recovery. The ceramic adsorbent material is loaded with lithium in stirred tank reactors containing the brine. The Li-extraction process takes advantage of the fact that the brine is hot, not a hostile hot brine like geo-thermal but hot enough, approximately 70°C. This means that no additional energy is required and the reaction kinetics for adsorption are ideal. In the second step, the loaded adsorbent releases the Li ions for recovery. The process is fast, efficient, it dramatically reduces the time and land required for Li extraction from months (with evaporation pools) to hours. The LiSTR process is capable of producing a high-purity lithium chloride (LiCl) solution for further processing into battery-quality lithium carbonate. When moved to full-scale commercial production, Standard’s site will look more like a water treatment plant than a conventional lithium operation.
CleanTechnica: You’ve described Standard Lithium’s successes in producing 99.97% purity lithium carbonate (aka “3 nines”). Might you explain this concept a bit more fully? Why is it significant?
Robert Mintak: Standard Lithium has placed an emphasis on producing “3 nines” and higher purity lithium carbonate because quality matters to battery makers. Lithium batteries require a higher purity lithium carbonate, 99.5% and higher, than the lithium that is used for industrial purposes, which is considered a technical grade 98% to 99% purity. The small difference in purity has an impact on the selling price, by as much as 40%. It is also important to recognize that achieving a 99.5% purity does not necessarily mean qualifying as battery quality, what is in the 0.5% remaining is of critical importance to battery makers. Hence moving the needle to “3 nines” 99.9% and higher purity reduces problem contaminants in the final product. It is expected that battery makers will have increasingly more stringent quality requirements in the future.
CleanTechnica: What are the primary sites from which Standard Lithium is engaging at this time in Direct Lithium Extraction (DLE)?
Robert Mintak: The Smackover project in south Arkansas is our primary focus. Standard Lithium is currently operating a first-of-its-kind anywhere, industrial scale DLE plant that is plugged into the permitted, commercial brine operations at one of our project partner’s bromine extraction facilities. The plant has been continuously operating over the past year successfully extracting lithium from the tail or “waste” brine that is produced as a by-product from the bromine operations. The Smackover project represents the fastest and most environmentally sustainable opportunity for new U.S. lithium production. The region has all the pieces required to build a fully integrated lithium chemical business; a globally significant lithium resource with brine already produced in commercial volumes, extensive existing infrastructure, road, rail and water, highly skilled labor force, access to locally produced chemical reagents, geographically on the doorstep of both a growing domestic and global battery market, and importantly when building a project like this a social license that doesn’t exist in other regions of the country.
CleanTechnica: How does the Standard Lithium DLE model compare to a traditional mining model? In other words, how is DLE different than open pit mining, in brief?
Robert Mintak: In simple terms, “DLE” or Direct Lithium Extraction is the process of selectively extracting lithium from a brine solution without the use of large solar evaporation ponds. The benefits of this approach are manifold, including: a reduction in processing time — hours versus months, a much smaller environmental footprint – dozens of acres versus thousands, typically higher recoveries and final purity.
DLE is a buzz word in the lithium sector at the moment, but it is not a silver bullet technology that can be applied on every brine resource. It is important to recognize that every lithium brine resource on the planet is different. Each chemical profile, brine temperature, and hydraulic conditions in the source aquifer are unique. In addition to the brine, there are project related questions; access to low cost chemical reagents, water, power and regulatory guidelines need to be understood before developing a flow sheet.
CleanTechnica: CleanTechnica wrote about Standard Lithium in August 2020, and in the article you noted that Standard Lithium had at the time “a continuous (24/7) operating industrial-scale pre-commercial demonstration plant of our direct extraction technology.” How has the demonstration plant performed? What lessons have you learned as a company? What changes have you implemented?
Robert Mintak: The purpose of designing and running a demonstration plant at such a large, industrial scale is to test, optimize and de-risk the technology, while operating in real world conditions so we can scale directly to commercial with no intermediate step required. Over the past 12 months of operations, the plant has produced terra bytes of performance data which we have used to make optimizations to the process, most recently implementing refinements to improve both reagent and water consumption. We are currently running what we consider to be LiSTR 2.0. The performance data being generated from this current stage will be used to produce an updated mass and energy balance model that will be used for the design and costing work of the first commercial plant and a final investment decision (FID).
CleanTechnica: What are the advantages of having projects that are already permitted in commercial brine production?
Robert Mintak: The advantages are numerous and really differentiate our project from the pack. We are working in a region with decades of industrial development that is familiar with this type of work, not an untouched fragile eco-system. Having the unique opportunity to piggyback off of the existing brine operations, leveraging both the infrastructure and many of the permits has fast tracked our project allowing us to focus our attention and deploy significant capital with the confidence that a commercial development won’t unravel because of lengthy and costly permitting processes. The devil is in the details, permitting with the related risks, costs and time is what kills a project.
CleanTechnica: What recommendations do you have for your lithium mining cohort that is now under pressure to produce, with the backdrop of EV consumerism on the rise?
Robert Mintak: The lithium sector has gone through a couple of boom-and-bust cycles over the past decade with less than a handful of success stories. While aspirations are of course valuable, it is more important to focus on execution and demonstrating what you can do, walk before you run, under promise and over deliver.
CleanTechnica: What would you say to the Biden Administration about leaning toward promoting more environmentally friendly options to extract lithium — like DLE?
Robert Mintak: Standard Lithium has already engaged members of the Administration, through panel discussions and other outreach to demonstrate the advantages associated with our operation. We have also invited administration officials to visit our operation and see what we are building in Arkansas. We are also fortunate to have strong support from the community and state and federal representatives. South Arkansas has benefited from 100 years of oil and gas development and that knowledge, labor and existing infrastructure can now participate in a meaningful way in the new energy economy and be a global showcase for sustainable development.
CleanTechnica: What’s up next for Standard Lithium?
Robert Mintak: I am looking forward to getting my feet on the ground in Arkansas soon. Turning the corner on the pandemic and having travel restrictions removed will allow us to really accelerate our development objectives.
All interview answers are attributed to Standard Lithium CEO Robert Mintak.
Images courtesy of Standard Lithium.
Disclosure: The author owns shares of Standard Lithium.
Small Wave Energy Power Plants Could Be Wave Energy’s Path Forward
Anyone who looks out at the ocean may feel awed by the power apparent in every wave. That power has the potential to provide energy to land-based homes and businesses, as well as floating facilities and vessels at sea. But how can we transform the ocean’s energy into usable forms, such as electricity or desalinated water?
One way to harness the ocean’s energy is through a device called a wave energy converter, or WEC. To date, WEC designs have been generally centered on large, rigid bodies that float in the water and move relative to each other as waves roll past. These bodies typically absorb ocean wave energy and focus that energy into a centralized conversion mechanism, such as a rotary generator or hydraulic piston.
Now, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is exploring ways to significantly advance wave energy converter design and development. With funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Water Power Technologies Office, NREL researchers are developing concepts in which many small energy converters can be aggregated to create a single structure. With this new approach to developing wave energy, the domain of distributed embedded energy converter technologies (DEEC-Tec) could help the promise of substantial renewable energy generation from ocean waves become a reality.
Why Distribute and Embed Multiple Energy Converters?
One of the most innovative elements of DEEC-Tec is its ability to create flexible ocean wave energy converters, sometimes known as flexWECs. These devices have inherently broad-banded ocean wave energy absorption and conversion characteristics, meaning they can harvest energy across a wide range of ocean wave heights and frequencies.
DEEC-Tec provides a new scope of possibilities for how ocean wave energy can be harvested and converted and how flexWEC designs could power a variety of end uses both on land (powering homes and businesses) and at sea (powering navigation buoys and marine vehicles). Some of these uses will support DOE’s Powering the Blue Economy™ initiative, which aims to advance marine renewable energy technologies, such as navigation buoys or autonomous underwater vehicles, to promote economic growth in industries such as aquaculture.
“Our goal with DEEC-Tec is to vastly broaden how we currently conceptualize and envision the use of ocean wave energy,” said NREL researcher Blake Boren, who has been studying wave energy converters for over 10 years. “There is a tremendous range of possibilities for how we can develop these DEEC-Tec-based wave energy converters, and we are accelerating that exploration process.”
How DEEC-Tec Moves Wave Energy Forward
DEEC-Tec concepts are assembled from many small energy converters that, together, form a structure that can undulate like a snake, stretch and bend like a sheet of fabric, or expand and contract like a balloon. As the overall structure bends, twists, and/or changes shape as the ocean waves roll past, each embedded energy converter can turn a portion of that ocean wave energy into electricity.
A flexWEC has several advantages:
- A broader spectrum of energy capture. With a wide range of movement and deformations available, DEEC-Tec-based wave energy converters absorb and convert ocean wave energy across a much broader range of wave conditions — both in terms of size and frequency — when compared with rigid-body converters.
- Mechanical redundancy. The ability to use many hundreds or thousands of distributed embedded energy converters can ensure that ocean energy conversion occurs even if one or more of those converters stops functioning.
- Resilience. The DEEC-Tec-based wave energy converter’s flexibility grants an inherent survival mechanism: the ability to ride out and absorb excessive, dangerous surges of energy from large storms and rough seas.
- Favorable materials. DEEC-Tec-based wave energy converters could be manufactured from recycled materials or simple polymers. These replace heavier, sometimes more expensive materials that have historically been used for wave energy converter development, such as steel or rare-earth elements needed for large permanent magnets. Moreover, existing mass-manufacturing techniques could be used for straightforward and cost-effective DEEC-Tec component fabrication.
- Easier installation. DEEC-Tec-based wave energy converters can be folded, deflated, or otherwise made compact for transport from a manufacturer to a deployment site. Likewise, for installation, they can be expanded to cover broad surface areas as needed. This would allow for robust energy capture with lower capital costs.
- Reduced maintenance schedules. Monitoring the relative performance of many small devices determines the need for DEEC-Tec-based wave energy converter maintenance throughout the structure. The inherent redundancy of the structure potentially translates to less frequent inspections and maintenance requirements.
- Near-continuous structural control. A DEEC-Tec-based wave energy converter is composed of numerous small transducers — mechanisms that convert one form of energy into another. Some of these can serve as simple electrical actuators, which can change the converter’s shape and movement in response to ocean wave conditions. This will allow for greater ocean wave energy harvesting and conversion control.
Bending to the Future
While there are many advantages to using DEEC-Tec in the research and development of ocean wave energy converters, there are still unknowns that need to be understood and addressed. To this end, NREL researchers are identifying the materials, structural designs, electronic systems, and manufacturing methods that could advance DEEC-Tec concepts for marine renewable energy. NREL’s work also includes DEEC-Tec subcomponent validation and codesign, computational models to simulate performance, and device proofs of concept for building and validation.
As part of this research, NREL is collaborating with outside institutions, such as the University of Colorado–Boulder, Netherlands-based energy company SBM Offshore, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, and Sandia National Laboratories.
Learn more about NREL’s work on distributed embedded energy converter technologies.
Article and Images courtesy of the NREL, the U.S. Department of Energy.
ChargePoint Launches Electric Fleet Charging Ecosystem
The whole ground transportation sector should electrify in the next 15 years. However, when you look at the different uses cases, some seem much more logical immediately than others. Fleets that travel a lot of miles (or km) but on predictable routes or trip patterns can be exceptional cases for electrification. The lower cost of “fuel” (electricity versus fossil fuel) and other operational costs makes the “total cost of ownership” advantage that much better. Also, fleet managers are more likely to pay attention to and care about operational cost than private car owners.
So, with that in mind, it is both not surprising and quite exciting that ChargePoint has just rolled out a “global fleet solution portfolio.” No matter the type of size of your fleet, ChargePoint wants your business. Much of this is pre-existing products and services, but it is more comprehensively packaged and tailored to fleets now.
“From concept to scale, ChargePoint’s global fleet solution portfolio includes everything fleets need to electrify and optimize fueling as they grow,” ChargePoint writes. “Fleet management software combined with ChargePoint’s AC and DC fast charging solutions balance charging costs with operational readiness for light- to heavy-duty vehicles across depot, on-route and at-home charging. Expert design/build services ensure a smooth transition to electrification. Ongoing support and maintenance guarantee maximum uptime for essential fueling.”
Products and services included in its fleet charging options include:
- ChargePoint® Express Plus — DC fast charging built on software-defined hardware architecture, which includes:
- Each EXPP Power Block houses up to five self-contained EXPP Power Modules that can flexibly distribute up to 200 kW.
- EXPP Power Link dispenses power to EVs and supports up to two flexible cables compatible with all standard connector types.
- Connecting multiple EXPP Power Blocks optimizes power sharing flexibility and scalability.
- Multiple EXPP Power Links enable a mix of sequential and simultaneous charging.
- Cable management ensures EXPP Power Link stations can support various vehicle sizes and parking configurations while keeping cables safely off the ground. Mounting options include Wall, Pedestal and Gantry.
- The ChargePoint Express Plus solution features native support for the Open ChargePoint Protocol (OCPP).
- ChargePoint Fleet Depot, Mobility and Home software solutions — this includes:
- Depot software manages energy to minimize infrastructure and fuel costs while ensuring operational readiness through telematics, scheduling, utility and vehicle integrations.
- Mobility software ensures fleet drivers never get stranded on route by making it easy to find and pay for public charging using a variety of payment options including fuel cards.
- Home software enables fleets to offer home charging to drivers with take-home vehicles, managing the entire workflow of procurement, installation and fuel reimbursement.
- Application programming interfaces (APIs) and global partnerships across telematics, fuel cards, fleet and asset management systems complement ChargePoint solutions and ensure seamless integration with existing fleet operations.
- 50-amp AC fleet charging stations & software
- 80-amp AC charging solution for fleets
- ChargePoint Assure® Pro maintenance and management package, which includes:
- Technical support around the clock in local languages
- Proactive station monitoring and role-based alerts and notifications
- One-hour response, same-day dispatch and 24-hour resolution commitments
- Extended parts warranty, including labor and spares management
Go ahead and sign up for a free fleet assessment if this interests you.
“Successful fleet electrification requires optimizing, adapting and scaling to all of the unique needs that fleets have — from planning to implementation — and we offer the most complete portfolio for the market,” said Bill Loewenthal, Senior Vice President of Product at ChargePoint. I interviewed Bill Loewenthal last month for an in-depth look at what ChargePoint offers. For more on that, listen to the podcasts below or head over to the summary articles:
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UN Greenwashes Shipping with Hopelessly Weak Carbon Efficiency Target
The global shipping fleet will be required to reduce its carbon intensity by just 1.5% a year under a climate plan adopted by the UN regulator, the IMO, yesterday. The target is as weak as what would be achieved under business as usual¹ and falls far short of the 7% annual reduction required to meet the goals of the Paris agreement. Transport & Environment (T&E) said the EU must resist all attempts by the IMO to stop it taking effective regional measures to reduce the climate impact of shipping in Europe.
Faig Abbasov, shipping programme director at T&E, said: “The maritime regulator is greenwashing shipping with a hopelessly weak ship efficiency target. The proposal shows total disregard for climate science and is nothing more than a cosmetic measure. Meanwhile, the IMO is meddling in the democratic affairs of the EU by trying to curb its plans to cut ship pollution. This is unacceptable.”
At the meeting the IMO secretariat again expressed disapproval of potential national and regional regulatory measures to address shipping’s growing climate impact where it has failed. The EU is preparing to include shipping in its emissions trading system when it revises the bloc’s carbon market on 14 July. The EU will also propose to require ships to progressively switch to alternative sustainable fuels.
Shipping accounts for about 13% of greenhouse gas emissions from European transport.
¹ The ICCT, Choose wisely: IMO’s carbon intensity target could be the difference between rising or falling shipping emissions this decade, 2021.
Heat Stifles & Strains Grids In US West
Mutually worsening heat and drought, both fueled by climate change, are stifling the American West, stoking wildfire fears and straining electrical grids — and the worst is far from over. “We could have two, three, four, five of these heat waves before the end of the summer,” Park Williams, a UCLA climate and fire scientist who has calculated that heat waves are intensifying because soil in the western half of the nation is the driest it has been since 1895, told the AP.
A record-breaking heatwave trapped by an area of high atmospheric pressure, known as a heat dome, is pushing temperatures as much as 30°F above normal and subjecting 40 million people to temperatures over 100°F. Doctors in Arizona and Nevada warned touching pavement could cause third degree burns. Extreme heat and heat waves are some of the clearest impacts of climate change on extreme weather and kill as many as 5,600 people living in the U.S. every year. The human health harms caused by extreme heat heighten societal inequities — extreme heat danger is often worst in historically redlined neighborhoods.
The extreme heat is also straining electrical grids. California grid operators called for voluntary demand reduction and, for the second time in four months, Texas grid operators are asking their customers to reduce their energy usage — including using less air conditioning and putting off cooking and washing their clothes — prompting jokes that Sen. Ted Cruz would soon be flying to Alaska.
‘This is as about as good as it’s going to get’
The intense heat and drought are fueling wildfires across the region and stoking fears that more will come as the season is just starting. And so is the warming. “We’re still a long way out from the peak of the wildfire season and the peak of the dry season,” Daniel Swain, a UCLA climate scientist, told the New York Times. “Things are likely to get worse before they get better.”
Jonathan Overpeck, a climate scientist at the University of Michigan, agreed.
“The Southwest is getting hammered by climate change harder than almost any other part of the country, apart from perhaps coastal cities,” he told the New York Times. “And as bad as it might seem today, this is about as good as it’s going to get if we don’t get global warming under control.”
Sources: Heat wave: New York Times $, AP, Washington Post $, Reuters, CNN, San Francisco Chronicle, Bloomberg $, Axios; Burns: AP; Grid crunch: The Guardian, Bloomberg $, Reuters; Ted Cruz memes: Buzzfeed; Fires in: North Dakota: AP; Montana: AP; Idaho: AP; Nevada: AP; Arizona: AP; Climate Signals background: Extreme heat and heatwaves; Drought; Wildfires.
Originally published by Nexus Media (image added by editor).
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