Taupō-based company Geo40 has made a breakthrough in extracting near battery-grade lithium from geothermal fluid which its says could be a gamechanger.
Its chief executive John Worth said the earth mineral was highly prized, with battery-grade lithium selling for US$10,000 (NZ$15,600) a tonne.
Geo40 was founded in 2010 to find ways to extract valuable minerals from geothermal fluid. The plant at Contact Energy's Ohaaki geothermal power station was originally built to extract silica, which the company has been extracting for quite some time.
Silica is a mineral abundant in geothermal brines, but blocks up pipes. The mineral had to be removed before the lithium in geothermal brines could be extracted.
But the leap forward to lithium extraction was providing new commercial potential for the firm, Mr Worth said.
Lithium, normally mined from hard rock, is used to produce lithium ion batteries, the technology that underpins electric vehicles. The batteries could one day be the answer to storing wind and solar power, the chief executive added.
The company recently received a $15m grant from Provincial Growth Fund, which was championed by New Zealand First, allowing it to develop its core silica business as well as high-value minerals.
It helped build a $20m large-scale commercial extraction plant, which is under construction and due to be commissioned by early 2021. The plant would produce an estimated 5000 tonnes of silica a year, Mr Worth said.
A lithium module would be added to the existing demonstration plant. Commercial quantities of battery-grade lithium could be sold in 12 to 18 months.
The success enjoyed by Geo40 is one of the aims of the Provincial Growth Fund, and a core principle of New Zealand First which is to develop our regions and build a robust export-led economy.