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Vulcan steams ahead with geothermal lithium brine study

Vulcan Energy Resources’ central lithium extraction plant in Germany’s Rhine Valley. Credit: File.

Perth-based Vulcan Energy Resources’ Zero Carbon Lithium project in the Upper Rhine Valley brine field in Germany is steaming ahead with the company’s phase-one bridging study due for completion next month.

The study is being completed with engineering firm Hatch, which also completed Vulcan’s prefeasibility and definitive feasibility studies (PFS and DFS) for the massive and revolutionary geothermal lithium brine project.

Vulcan says the bridging study work has identified several key value improvements not included in the DFS from February, including the amalgamation of the two planned lithium extraction plants and geothermal power plants into one central plant with 24,000 tonnes per annum lithium hydroxide equivalent capacity. As part of the study Vulcan says it has revised the field development plant (FDP) to target increased production from the core, proven area around iy=ts current production and re-injection wells.

The company says it will provide a resource update this month as part of this revised FDP.

Vulcan says it has secured the main land packages for its core phase-one production areas, with the final key land package for its lithium extraction plant currently under negotiation and expected to conclude in November. The central plant has been built and tested off-site in preparation for transport and onsite integration and the company says it has received building permit approval for it to be installed at the Frankfurt Hoechst chemical park.

Site works for the central plant have begun and management says it has a commissioning target for this year’s final quarter. The site is north of the phase-one lithium plant (CLP) and just across the river Main, which runs through Frankfurt.

Vulcan also says it is also progressing with the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) towards debt financing lender requirements and expects to complete the assessment next month. The assessment is being carried out in association with ERM Environmental Resource Management sustainability consultancy.

Following completion of the bridging study, ESIA and securing the production land packages, the company will start confirming its full project financing in November.

Debt financing will be led by French multinational universal bank and financial services holding company BNP Paribas, following a successful market-sounding process conducted earlier in the year, which resulted in significant in-principle support from European Export Credit Agencies. Management says equity financing will be targeted at the project level following interest from multiple strategic corporates from the energy, chemicals and automotive sectors.

The Zero Carbon Lithium project is located strategically in the middle of the European battery industry and sits on a 300km “graben” system that contains a consistent sedimentary-hosted geothermal lithium reservoir – meaning the lithium bearing water, or “brine”, is hot.

The company intends to pump lithium-infused water to the surface before removing the lithium and re-injecting the wastewater back into the ground. The resulting geothermal energy will then be used to generate power at surface through standard technology.

Vulcan is aiming to kick-off production by the end of 2025 and intends to use the uncommon “adsorption” method of extracting the lithium from the brine, steering the operation away from the typical evaporation ponds that are massive, expensive to build and have negative environmental impacts.

Not only is Vulcan planning to run its own lithium operation on geothermal power and achieve a net-zero status for it, but its definitive feasibility study (DFS) numbers show a significant 20 per cent of top-line income coming from the sale of geothermal power.

In a move being hailed a game-changer for green-themed development – and considered a direct response to the Inflation Reduction Act adopted by the United States late last year – the European Union (EU) passed the Critical Raw Materials Act and the complementary Net-Zero Industry Act as part of its broader “Green Deal Industrial Plan”.

Combined, the EU says the acts will assure access to a secure, diversified, affordable and sustainable supply of critical raw materials considered vital for strategic sectors including the net-zero and digital industries, along with aerospace, defence and the burgeoning electric vehicle sector.

In the meantime, Vulcan appears to be doing a good job of gathering its ducks and getting them in line to lay a solid foundation for a project that could have some serious dimensions.

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