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Vulcan cements leadership to drive world-first project

Vulcan Energy Resources leaders Francis Wedin and Cris Moreno. Credit: File

Vulcan Energy Resources has cemented its leadership structure as it surges towards bringing the world’s first integrated carbon-neutral lithium chemicals and renewable energy project to commercial production.

The Zero Carbon Lithium project in Germany’s Upper Rhine Valley brine field hosts Europe’s biggest lithium resource, from which Vulcan is aiming to co-produce the first-ever carbon-neutral lithium and renewable geothermal energy.

The company wants to establish the project as Europe’s leading net-zero carbon lithium business in a bid to become a key enabler in that continent’s transition towards electric vehicles (EVs), while facilitating energy security through geothermal renewable energy production.

To lead the project to large-scale commercial production, Vulcan has appointed its former deputy chief executive officer Cris Moreno to the new role of managing director and chief executive officer. Mr Moreno has 20 years of global experience in delivering major capital projects in the energy and chemicals sector.

The company says he has extensive experience in executing large, integrated capital projects in the oil and gas industry, which shares many similarities with integrated lithium chemicals and renewable energy projects such as Vulcan’s. He also brings unique experience in the lithium chemicals and battery cathode industries in Europe, having successfully led “green” scale-up companies into commercial production.

Mr Moreno’s experience in the European sector features stints at Northvolt, at its lithium hydroxide refinery, and Aurora Lithium. His leadership roles in the liquefied natural gas (LNG) sector include time at Santos, Woodside Energy, and Shell, mainly focusing on the execution phases of projects with budgets of greater than US$1 billion (AU$1.51 billion).

The company’s now immediate past managing director Francis Wedin ­– who founded the Zero Carbon Lithium project in 2018 – will step into the role of executive chair as a key part of the management restructuring. Current executive chair Gavin Rezos will remain on the board as the non-executive deputy chair.

As we embark on the execution phase, we need to ensure that we have the right skill sets at the executive level as we execute and deliver the Zero Carbon Lithium Project. Since joining us as Deputy CEO in 2022, Cris Moreno has been instrumental in transforming Vulcan from a development-focused team into an integrated development, execution and production company, and has built up a highly capable project directorate. Vulcan Energy Resources executive chair Francis Wedin

Earlier this month, Vulcan confirmed that the mechanical operation of its lithium extraction optimisation plant was being finalised ahead of its expected completion in August to be ready for full operation in September.

Once up and running, it will mark the first tonnes of lithium chloride concentrate ever produced in Europe and the first tonnes of lithium produced using a sorption-type direct lithium extraction method driven by renewable heat instead of fossil gas. The concentrate will then supply Vulcan’s downstream optimisation plant to produce its final lithium hydroxide product.

Today’s strategic leadership reshuffling follows news earlier this week that Vulcan had signed a binding term sheet with SLB (formerly Schlumberger), for services including well construction, evaluation, production and optimisation to increase geothermal-lithium brine production.

Before full phase-one commercial production begins, the company expects to start operations at the project’s optimisation plants, while new production-reinjection wells will be drilled in a bid to increase its brine flow.

Vulcan notes that it is in a strong cash position to prepare its new production sites and to progress the project’s execution, with about €164 million (AU$269 million) in the bank as of May 26. The process of securing the full debt and equity financing needed for the initial phase of work is underway and is expected to be secured by the end of next year’s first quarter.

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