(Bloomberg) — Wealth Minerals Ltd. is betting that its plan to use a more sustainable lithium mining method will lure European buyers of the mineral used in electric vehicle batteries and solar panels.
The Vancouver-based company’s properties in Chile— despite being years away from production— are already garnering “lots of interest” from battery and EV makers in Europe, Chief Executive Officer Henk van Alphen said in an interview, without specifying the companies. The explorer has land positions at sites including the Salar de Atacama, the world’s largest-producing lithium brine deposit.
Wealth Minerals, listed on Canada’s venture exchange with a market value of about C$132 million ($97 million), is planning to use direct lithium extraction, or DLE, rather than the brine evaporation method used by the only two producers in Chile, SQM and Albemarle Corp.
“ESG that the government is talking about, that fits very well with the Europeans,” Van Alphen said by phone. “If you don’t have that, they don’t want to talk to you.”
Usually, extraction is a lengthy process that includes pulling salt-rich water into storage tanks and letting it evaporate over time, leaving behind a lithium-rich brine. With DLE, brine can be reinjected back into salt flats, reducing the environmental impact and speeding production. It would also appease a government focused on raising environmental and social standards.
But DLE is barely used commercially anywhere and has to be adapted to the particular conditions of each salt flat. Also, Wealth Minerals would need to navigate a tough permitting process in Chile, including collaborating with a state lithium company currently being created by the government.
Van Alphen is betting that Chile will be on board with his DLE approach and prospective European backers as western companies seek to break China’s dominance of the lithium industry.