Xtralit seeks to increase Argentina and Chile litiferous capacity with DLE technology

Israeli company Xtralid plans to invest US$104 million in the Argentine lithic sector to develop its Direct Extraction (DLE) technology, which provides results even with low concentrations in brine.

The company wants to accelerate research and development in the country and has its eyes on the Chilean market.

BNamericas spoke to Xtralit CEO, Simon Lytsin, to learn more.

BNamericas: Where have you tested the extraction technology and what were your results?

Lychee: We have conducted tests in salt lakes, with water obtained during oil and gas extraction or used in heat generation, and we have conducted pilot tests at several locations.

The Dead Sea, one of the world's largest and deepest salt lakes, contains an abundance of lithium. Additionally, we are conducting tests on lakes in North America and negotiating new tests in South America. We have also served as pilots in Asia and Europe.

BNamericas: What do you think about the progress of lithium technologies in South America?

Lychee: In the South American lithium triangle, between Bolivia, Chile and Argentina, there are technologies that use natural evaporation, whereby the salt takes two years to evaporate before extraction begins.

Traditional methods are time-consuming and commercially complex to extract the product. These technologies have a history of more than 100 years. The time has come for new technologies to extract the material at the heart of the Green Revolution.

BNamericas: How does Xtralit technology differ from others on the market?

Lychee: It may not take years or months, even weeks to get results. It takes a few hours or a couple of days to extract the lithium. In addition, it is environmentally less problematic and economically more competitive than traditional methods.

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We have advantages over more advanced DLE technologies by using our own proprietary products. Because our technology works very well at low concentrations, we have an interesting perspective on South American lithium.

When evaporation is used, companies typically have 600ppm or 700ppm to run an operation. But there are layers of salt with 50 ppm or 100 ppm that are rejected by companies because they are not technological. [convencional] It can be efficient. However, our technology has proven to work well in the Dead Sea, where our first pilot went with 30ppm.

Chile, Argentina, and Bolivia have high-concentration salt flats, but very low-concentration salt flats that are unprotected and located far from communities. Don't see them on current market basis. This is one of our great advantages.

BNamericas: Extralid will invest approximately US$104 million in research, technology development and a new laboratory in Argentina. Is that so?

Lychee: This number is only the beginning, because in Argentina we will reach a higher amount. We partner with the financial sector and our partners expect us to define the places where our technology can be used. At the moment we cannot reveal the location because they are still in negotiations, but we are doing tests in different places in Argentina, such as Catamarca and Salta.

We want to develop our technology at the academic and scientific research level to add knowledge and discover new sources of lithium in Argentina. We are looking for young people who are involved in research and studies on salt water to open a research center.

BNamericas: Does Argentina's complicated economic and political situation pose risks to Xtralit's investments?

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Lychee: There are economic and political risks, but I am interested in international agreements and greater transparency for international cooperation. The situation has improved a lot, not only in my opinion, but also in the opinion of many businessmen in Argentina. There is hope that the economy will recover and stabilize.

BNamericas: Will Xtralit participate in Chile's tender to invest in lithium?

Lychee: We are interested in Chile. It is an island of stability in South America and the only country that currently has a free trade agreement with the United States. Chile will be the largest market for electric vehicles. We have made some preliminary contacts and await further clarifications on their national strategy.

I will be traveling to Chile in May to participate in a conference organized by the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile on the economic development of lithium. I think we will find people there who will help us understand the situation better and get more information.

Chile is at the right time to replace traditional technologies with new extractive technologies, not only for environmental but also for economic reasons. In that way, we position ourselves as the perfect partner for local companies, especially for salt flats that have a lower concentration than expected.

BNamericas: How competitive is the electric vehicle market and what are its prospects?

Lychee: The market has been growing since the recession for geopolitical and economic reasons. Economic growth in the Far East has caused some slowdown in the purchase of electric vehicles.

But as I firmly believe in the bright future of the electric vehicle industry, I am sure that sooner or later we will forget about internal combustion engines and use only electric transport.

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In the market, the price of electric vehicles remains high even though the prices fluctuate. Even at current low prices, there is still a large gap between the costs of lithium extraction methods and the prices that make this business profitable. The market will grow to such an extent that there will be a shortage of lithium supply in the long run.

BNamericas: A threat to lithium substitution in electromobility?

Lychee: Research is being done to improve and improve the performance of lithium. Advances include solid-state lithium-ion batteries and charging solutions. However, that's it.

I've heard a lot of different opinions about lithium alternatives, none that offer any real perspective. Also, if there is a ready-made prototype and proven technology in the laboratory, it will take at least 10 years before the solution is mass produced.

What I really see is interest in converting conventional transportation to electric, and there is no turning back. At least for the next 10 to 15 years, there will be no competition for lithium.

BNamericas: What do you think about lithium recycling?

Lychee: I am a firm believer in lithium and battery recycling. However, we won't see a big impact in the near future because it takes time for the battery to reach the required age for recycling. After five or ten years of using the batteries, we can see more business opportunities.

Recycling becomes efficient when there is no growth in the market or when the market stabilizes, which will happen in about 10 or 15 years.

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