REGINA -- A new project is bringing lithium exploration to Saskatchewan, and it could have major implications for the province’s oil industry.

Prairie Lithium Corp. is part of a project that will take oilfield brine water, and extract lithium through a series of chemical reactions.

“The lithium-free brine water is then sent back down hole for disposal, and the extracted lithium can be sent for further refining into battery-grade materials,” said Zach Maurer, president and CEO of Prairie Lithium Corp.

Maurer has been studying lithium in Saskatchewan for the last three years. He began working with Dr. Ian Ireland, and the two developed this project’s process over several months.

“Prior to this, I was actually developing systems to treat oilfield-produced water,” said Dr. Ireland. “It’s the biggest waste in the oilfield. Normally, you produce oil and you produce more water, especially in Saskatchewan.”

Ireland said pulling lithium from brine water isn’t a new idea, but the difficulty was taking it from the lab to commercial scale.

“Lots of trial and error. Lots of failed experiments,” said Ireland.

Maurer and Ireland’s process is anticipated to take under six hours, compared to the current industry standard of 18 months. Both believe the final design could have huge implications.

“There’s currently only one producing mine in North America, that only produces about one per-cent of the global supply of lithium,” said Maurer. “So, the entire continent of North America is actually extremely dependent on South America and Chinese imports of lithium.”

Maurer said there is a tremendous amount of lithium in Western Canada and with the oil industry struggling, this could be a way to use the infrastructure and skills already in place.

“There’s a huge opportunity right now to transition some of these suspended wells, and utilize existing brine-well production,” said Maurer.

Minister of Energy and Resources, Bronwyn Eyre, said the concept also has a good environmental footprint.

“It’s good for sustainability because it transitions those aging oil wells into another use,” said Eyre. “[It’s] good for diversification here in Saskatchewan.”

The next step for Prairie Lithium is to construct a facility and start field operations in the southern portion of the province, with the goal of becoming a global player right here in Saskatchewan.