Ben from Saltworks Technologies, has a rare gift to infect you with enthusiasm and curiosity, while explaining an arcane lithium processing technology, and simultaneously addressing topics as diverse as environmental impact, quality of lithium resources around the world, oil & gas brines fit for lithium production and innovations for more efficient lithium extraction process from salars.
Lithium Today: You mainly work with most important commodity, we have – water.
Ben Sparrow (CEO, Saltworks Technologies): Yes, well said.
LT: So I am interested, how you moved from waste water treatment to extracting lithium.
Ben: Ok, so we don’t do wastewater treatment, we do advanced desalination, meaning we are moving ions from water and concentrating salt water to extreme concentrations, since a lot of lithium mining really is water mining. As you and your readers know, lithium is often dissolved from water and the name of the game is concentrating it as cost effectively as possible and then selectively crystalizing out lithium carbonate. So it’s just a very natural fit for what we do, it’s a same sort of competencies.
Lithium industry is moving fast, in response to growing demand. Lithium boom represents a major opportunity for mining companies, especially junior ventures, looking for cheap funding.
Therefore, every day we are flooded by a stream of news, that flaunts progress of miners seeking lithium or testing for lithium content in newly found deposits.
Yet for an analyst or investor, without experience in mining or geology, terms that make part of the headlines, as exploration, prospecting, feasibility study may be only vaguely familiar. What is a difference between exploration and prospecting? Which stage comes first? What really is a feasibility study? How scoping relates to feasibility study? Is it a part of it or a next or previous stage?
Even the terms as deposit, resource, reserve might be confusing. Which of them are interchangeable if any?
Hence it is hard to really grasp the developments on the lithium market, without strong grounding in these terms and understanding of sequence of the stages for mine development.
Lithium Today is here for you to clear out the mess.
The image presented to foreign players in lithium sector, regarding economic, political and social environment in the South American Lithium Triangle is usually very simplified. It paints a picture of stable and growing Chile, Argentina getting back on track with its technocratic leader and regional enfant terrible Bolivia with its populistic – and hence by definition labelled as business unfriendly policies. More detailed analysis of socio-economic and political situation in these countries rarely reaches lithium industry decision makers and analysts. The Chinese quest for dominance in lithium and battery sector best reflected by a series of bold acquisitions and investment, concluded or attempted is also rarely discussed in a wider geopolitical context of changing US foreign policy, particularly in relation to Latin America and in context of frantic attempts to regain a level playing field by large Korean and Japanese corporations. We aim to fill-in this gap and re-examine some of those commonly hold perception and believes by taking a more macro view and providing a reader with better understanding of local realities.
Chile’s flawed image of stable democracy
Since it’s embrace of democracy in 1990 Chile became a model of development – politically and economically for its South American peers. Yet with rising inequalities, as illustrated by growing Gini index (Chile outranks Nigeria and is in top 25 of most unequal economies) and wide disenchantment with politics embodied by falling voting turnout rates (In 1989, 86 percent of voters cast a ballot. In last election only 46 percent did, with decline in turnout especially among poorer parts of society – who traditionally were more likely to vote left). Chile’s image has been tarnished. Future also remains uncertain. On one hand we have a right-wing president, detached from liberal society being in favor of extended abortion rights, stricter environmental protection measures and rights for sexual minorities. On the other, leftist government promising to curb corruption in which elites drawing its power from the time of Pinochet have been involved – failing to deliver while the left’s leader family member gets entangled in land dealing scandals.