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Lithium company sees potential for southeastern Sask.

Inside Prairie Lithium’s Emerald Park facility, the company is perfecting a method to process a mineral in extremely high demand amid a rising demand for batteries.

From the outside, it looks like any one of the many workshops that surround it.

Products like electric vehicles and cell phones are what convinced Don Bender, an engineer with the company, to enter the lithium processing field after a career in heavy oil.

“EVs started to hit mainstream, I got pretty excited about the technology and that got me excited about the underlying technology, which is the batteries that powered them,” Bender said.

Some lithium mining operations require an abundance of land, but that’s not the vision of the project. Instead, it uses a substance called “PLIX” – meaning Prairie Lithium Ion Exchange.

The PLIX is then mixed into salty brine extracted from deep below the ground at the company’s drilling rig near Torquay, Sask.

"The PLIX has hydrogen ions in it, and they swap places with the lithium ions in the brine, we then take that PLIX out of the brine, we wash it, then we recover it with a hydrochloric acid," Bender said.

The end product of the process – now in its third iteration – is a crude lithium chloride. It’s the first step towards battery-grade lithium, while the leftover brine is returned to where it was dug up.

“It wouldn't do any good if in order to transition to electric vehicles, we had to destroy our environment some more,” Bender said.

There are still questions around the future of the method, particularly whether it’s better to have one large processing plant or a series of smaller ones.

The demand for the substance is high, and the federal government recently announced a $4 billion plan for a series of rare elements, including lithium.

“We are certainly interested in fostering the development of processing related industries in this country, and so we have set aside money in the Critical Minerals Strategy,” Minister of Natural Resources Jonathan Wilkinson said at a press conference in Vancouver on Dec. 9.

Prairie Lithium said the federal funding shows the interest in Canadian-made rare earth projects.

The company plans to launch a full pilot project in southeastern Saskatchewan based on the work being done in Emerald Park. Top Stories

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