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Standard Lithium holds a virtual ribbon cutting for El Dorado plant

Posted on September 23, 2020

Marvin Richards
El Dorado News-Times

“El Dorado looks forward to becoming North America’s Lithium city,” Bill Luther, CEO and President of the El Dorado Union County Chamber of Commerce said during a virtual ribbon cutting for Standard Lithium’s LiSTR Direct Lithium Extraction facility in El Dorado.

Robert Mintak, CEO of Standard Lithium and host of the virtual ribbon cutting ceremony reiterated the importance of El Dorado in the future of Lithium production.

“It is the most rapidly advancing lithium project in the United States; and the one that has the clearest path to go into production,” Mintak said.

LiSTR (an acronym for Lithium Stirred Tank Reactor) is an environmentally-friendly technology that selectively extracts lithium ions from tail brine that is a by-product of existing bromine production facilities run by LANXESS in south Arkansas, according to Standard Lithium’s website.

It is the specific rich elements of El Dorado and south Arkansas that makes this endeavor almost perfect for Standard Lithium.

“It (El Dorado) is unique in the world. Usually when looking for a location, the best locations are remote with no infrastructure and several challenges when it comes to permits and building the actual project,” Mintak explained.

Given how important infrastructure is to a project like LiSTR, Mintak said El Dorado’s established infrastructure is crucial in Lithium extraction.

“Water is always critical. El Dorado has been wise in how it has split the town water use from the industrial water use. That was great forethought,” Mintak said. “So with the contractors, Gulf Coast related industries, access to water, supplies, reagents, low-cost power, and the broader ecosystem of an oil/gas and chemical industry; no place in the world do you have a lithium resource like that. So El Dorado is unique in that way,” Mintak added.

Many Arkansans and El Dorado leaders took part in the virtual ribbon cutting ceremony. El Dorado Mayor Veronica Smith-Creer gave a virtual tour of downtown. Governor Asa Hutchinson discussed how exciting this venture is for El Dorado and how LiSTR can put Arkansas on the global map in lithium extraction. Senator John Boozman and Congressman Bruce Westerman also participated in the ceremony and expressed their enthusiasm for what this pilot plant can do for El Dorado and the state of Arkansas. Lithium extraction is becoming more and more essential, especially in the production of electric vehicles and ion batteries. Senator Tom Cotton also made an appearance and honed in on this fact. “This is a cutting edge project with technology that can one day make America a leading producer in lithium. And that’s no small matter because the lithium produced in this plant will power the products of advanced industries, from smart phones to electric vehicles,” Cotton said. “Along the way, this plant will create hundreds of high paying and stable jobs for El Dorado residents.” Tesla owner and CEO Elon Musk gave updates around the current redesign process of Tesla car batteries at Tesla’s Battery Day on September 22. Part of that update included Musk talking about the addition of raw silicon in future batteries to better store and hold more lithium. Tesla also has plans to access more lithium and is investing in a lithium plant of their own in Nevada, furthering the already high demand for lithium.

Robert Mintak said he believes this highly anticipated announcement from Musk around lithium batteries will help put Standard Lithium and this new facility in a great position moving forward. “Tesla Battery is going to throw a lot of eyes on the lithium space and the entire ecosystem. And this is an opportunity for a project (LiSTR) that is not just arm waving like you see in other developments. We’re building something real; no one has done this before, it is the first of its kind anywhere in the world, and El Dorado is the best place to do that,” Mintak said.

Despite the excitement around the LiSTR facility, there are also some concerns around it being environmentally-friendly. Currently, the chemical reagents needed for lithium extraction are generally shipped from overseas, leaving a huge carbon footprint in the current process. Robert Mintak said he wanted to assure people that with this facility, that carbon footprint is drastically reduced.

“A lot of the materials we will be using are made in El Dorado, chemical or somewhat similar to that; so a much lower carbon intensity that way. And additionally, the physical footprint of the plant is reduced because we do direct extraction at the plant, (which) eliminates the use of evaporation ponds, reduces processing time from months to hours and greatly increases the effective recovery of lithium,” Mintak explained.

For Robert Mintak, it is the simple things that have made him a big fan of El Dorado. “I’m a Canadian, so I love beer. When we (him and Andy Robinson, Standard Lithium COO) first arrived in Arkansas we stayed in Magnolia. We went to place after place looking for beer and then we learned that at that time, Magnolia was a dry county. And that was first for me in my 55 years,” Mintak said, laughing. “But when we got to El Dorado, we could get beer and that was my initial embrace of the community. But I’m also a huge fan of Flying Burger, my go to burger place. I love the Griffin, and Fayrays. I love it here.”