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Invest Alberta, POSCO Holdings sign MoU in support of oil-field brine lithium ventures in Alberta

South Korea-based POSCO Holdings and Invest Alberta signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to further the company’s ventures in Alberta. As part of the agreement, POSCO Holdings is considering investing in the exploration, development, and commercialization of oil-field brine lithium in Alberta. POSCO Holdings will commence exploring prospects in the region.

Oilfield brines contain lithium carbonate that may be processed to produce lithium for commercial purposes, according to the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Alberta.

Lithium-rich waters are trapped in formations ranging in age from 227 - 541 million years old. The most promising brines are trapped in limestone and dolostone rocks that are 365 - 390 million years old.


Lithium in Alberta. Source: University of Alberta

The the Alessi group at the University of Alberta is developing novel methods of extracting lithium from brines that can exceed 200,000 parts per million in total dissolved solids. A novel metal oxide sorbent developed in this research program is routinely yielding >95% extraction efficiency, with little co-extraction of other metals.

In September, Enverus Intelligence Research (EIR) released a new report that outlines the untapped opportunities in Alberta’s lithium brines, focusing on the potential for direct lithium extraction and prospects in wastewater processing. The report reviews the competitive landscape and offers insights into strategic considerations for operators. Key takeaways from the report include:

  • Alberta’s lithium brine concentration averages 42 parts per million (ppm.) The concentration is highest in the Woodbend Group, with an average concentration of 59 ppm.

  • Nine operators in Alberta identified for direct lithium extraction hold nearly 5 million hectares of land.

  • Extracting lithium during wastewater processing represents a massive opportunity from a services perspective. One identified company produces 22 million barrels of water a month. At a lithium concentration averaging 50 ppm and at a C$55,000 LCE spot price, the company could produce 10,600 tonnes of LCE/year and yearly revenue of C$583 million.

  • As of 1 January 2023, all industrial and metallic minerals have been placed under the jurisdiction of the Alberta Energy Regulator. New brine-hosted mineral licenses and lease bonus payments are expected to bring an additional C$152 million to the province in the first six years.

Invest Alberta appreciates the significant role POSCO Holdings can play in applying the company’s expansive expertise and experience to enhance the lithium production process, and commits to supporting the acquisition of mining rights, navigating the tax structure, and helping communicate the impact of POSCO Holding’s investment on Alberta’s objectives.

The insights shared by the Invest Alberta team fostered confidence in the province’s ability to support POSCO Holdings’ ambitions in lithium production and beyond.

As the holding company of the POSCO Group, POSCO Holdings is engaging in the development and investment in its lithium business. With the demand for lithium growing alongside the demand for electric vehicles, POSCO Holdings can lead the way in exploring oil-field brine lithium with the support of Alberta’s existing industry, talent pool, and post-secondary institutions that are actively pursuing solutions to some of the challenges associated with extracting brine-hosted lithium.

POSCO Group, which was launched in 1968 as a steel company, switched to a holding company system centered on POSCO Holdings in March 2022. Focusing on seven core initiatives—steel, rechargeable battery materials, lithium and nickel, hydrogen, energy, construction/infrastructure, and food (Agri-Bio)—the group is identifying and nurturing future growth drivers to diversify its business portfolio.

In order to secure lithium proactively, POSCO Holdings acquired the brine tenements in Argentina in 2018. The company is currently constructing commercial plants for brine lithium in two phases, with a total capacity of 50,000 tons per annum. Additionally, in 2018, POSCO Holdings agreed to establish a joint venture with Pilbara Minerals in Australia. Currently, it is constructing a commercialization plant in Korea for hard-rock lithium with a capacity of 43,000 tons per annum.


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