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Conventional evaporation ponds have been the state of the art to date when lithium is to be extracted from salars. The known disadvantages are high investments and slow process speeds. On top of that, valuable water reserves evaporate in the already mostly desert-like areas. The industry is therefore working flat out on alternatives. It is not yet clear which technology will prevail, but the economic potential of these alternatives is beyond question.

Spey Resources Corp. (CSE: SPEY; FRA: 2jS) is relying on technological collaboration with privately held Ekosolve of Brisbane, Australia, to develop the Incahuasi salar in Argentina's Salta lithium province. Ekosolve's promise is: no ponds, $125 million lower capital investment, only three hours of process time for 8 cycles per day, 95% lithium recovery, rapid modular processing plant design, and minimal water consumption. In the first phase, a plant with 500 tons of annual capacity, including a laboratory, could be built for a comparatively modest $11.5 million. The success of such a plant has nothing less than the potential to change the entire lithium industry. Therefore, we will hear a lot more from Spey Resources and we will follow the company closely.

For a better classification of the topic, we have attached a small 1&1 for lithium salars:

8 questions – 8 answers (www.GOLDINVEST.de has asked Lithium brine expert Phil Thomas*)

1. What is it that you want to look for in a good lithium salar?

The key attributes of a commercially viable salar are:

a. Strong flow of lithium brines through aquifers less than 100m deep. Strong flow is more than 100L a minute or 6,000L an hour. Too much flow destroys the aquifer structure by collapsing sediments or salt.
b. Lithium content approximately 300-600ppm. You don’t want it to be too concentrated i.e. over 600ppm because the lithium has an inclination to form twin salts and thus you lose the lithium out of brine solution.
c. Halite surface salars such as Rincon, Pozuelos and Incahuasi with salt crystal growth on the surface are preferred as you don’t have to drill deep to access the brines i.e. in Pocitos we had to drill to 400m which is expensive and difficult to manage.
d. Good chemistry balances such as higher chlorides than sulphates, low values of Calcium, Potassium and magnesium.
e. Being close to an older volcanic system with lithium minerals assists in concentration of lithium in the brines.
f. Having an impermeable clay basin liner is very useful as it allows the lithium brines to concentrate and not escape.

2. What is it that you want to avoid in a lithium salar?

a. You need to try to identify aquifers with a porosity of more than 8% and high transmissivity (the size of the voids in the salt/rock and their connectivity)
b. The chemistry in the brines is important – for example too little or too much chlorides, sulphates etc can be an issue as can high values of calcium, magnesium and potassium in the salt water brine.
c. Soft brine salars like Guayatayoc need roads built on the soft surfaces which can be expensive for drilling campaigns eg $100,000 USD per kilometre
d. Avoid being in the shadow of a high mountain range – it reduces wind and sun for evaporation.
e. Avoid the large capital expense of building ponds and adopt a lithium direct extraction single process like Ekosolve™.

3. What is so special about this Incahuasi salar?

The Incahuasi salar has been explored by some major companies so there is existing data showing sampling, drill results and TEM geophysics results. It sits beside three volcano cones and has a large river delta area. The tested grades of lithium in the salar range from 220ppm to 270ppm. The chemistry work done by PepinNini shows ideal chemistry with a large aquifer. Yet to be tested is the transmissivity and porosity but we are optimistic based on past results nearby.

4. How much does size matter?

The truth of the matter is that salars can be huge, but still companies eventually work on a footprint of half a square kilometre in area to place production wells. For example, in Rincon there are four to six production wells approximately 1km apart.

Salars are not like a metal in situ resource. It is more like a geothermal well, where the brine replenishes over time filling the voids that have been created by pumping out the brine.

You also want to be near the fringes of a salar, ideally where it is at its lowest elevation, because that is where the brines end up flowing and get concentrated by the evaporation as they reach the surface through water head pressure or capillary action. The movement is very slow over time and this concentration cycle over thousands of years is very important. In large salars like Salinas Grandes that are more than 40km long there are several points where the lithium concentrates.

5. How important are the grades of the brine 200 to 400 ppm?

Lithium starts to form salt crystals at about 1000-3000ppm depending on what the chemistries are. Therefore it is ideal to keep the lithium ions in solution for as long as possible which is why direct extraction is preferred, as it gives you the highest yield from the brines. The Ekosolve™ system can extract lithium from brines with as little as 80ppm efficiently but to reduce the amount of brine to be processed yields from 200-400ppm are ideal.

6. Isn’t Argentina difficult to operate in. Security of title? Permitting etc.?

Argentina has been the preferred location for processing lithium brines. This is because the regulatory system is well known, the mining titles system is very secure and the academic standard in the universities is very high. Permitting in Salta province is done under a judicial system which works well as each stage of the mine development is looked at by a mining judge then administered by a Mines Department Secretary. Other provinces that have administrative systems are much slower and difficult to get approvals.

Argentina clearly has some balance of payment issues and some sovereign debt issues that lead to peso hyperinflation but US dollar inflation is reasonably steady. Foreign currency exchange is done in a particular way and this assists foreign companies to minimize exchange rate “taxes”.

Gangfeng is our next door neighbour on the Incahuasi salar. They are one of the world;s largest lithium producers with interests in Mexico, Australia and China.

7. How does the Ekosolve Process work? What is direct lithium extraction?

Direct lithium extraction is the process of extracting lithium ions from a solution and creating a lithium salt like lithium chloride which is soluble and can be converted easily to lithium carbonate or lithium hydroxide. At the moment apart from the Ekosolve process there is no known direct extraction process that is commercially available. Solvent extraction is well known for directly extracting uranium, copper and other metals from concentrations as low as 0.3%.

Ekosolve is a solvent extraction process designed for lithium. A contract has been signed with Spey Resources to provide a 10,000 tonne plant. The pilot plant will be built which is made up of chambers that the solvent flows through and attracts the lithium ions and then the lithium is turned into lithium chloride and washed out of the organic solvent. It’s a safe, very low carbon process that doesn’t use much water, and the majority of the brines are returned to the salar within 3-4 hours so the impact on ground water movement is negligible.

8. What is the likely progression on this project – milestones, timelines?

The key milestones are:

1st Quarter
• Surface sampling of brines and taking 200L for the Ekosolve process tests, and SGS analysis
• Transient Electro Magnetic geophysics survey completion and interpretation

2nd Quarter
• Drilling 2-4 exploration holes to identify porosity, transmissitivity
• Testing subsurface porosity
• Testing concentration of lithium at various depths
• Selecting and drilling two production wells
• Conclusion of the Ekosolve brine testing and commencement of the pilot plant design and construction in Argentina

3rd Quarter
• Drilling production monitoring wells and measuring brine flow
• Completion of the baseline environmental study and application for the EL to be changed to a mining licence.
• Construction of the pilot plant components and acquisition of the chemicals needed.

4th Quarter
• Construction of the camp
• Infrastructure of power etc

 * Phil Thomas is CEO of AIS Resources Ltd. (TSXV: AIS, FRA: A8S). AIS Resources has optioned the mineral concessions of the Candella II project, which includes the Incahuasi salar, to private company One Tech Lithium. On April 23, 2021, Canada-based Spey Resources Corp. (CSE: SPEY; FRA: 2JS) entered into a share purchase agreement with the shareholders of Tech One Lithium Resources Corp. pursuant to which Spey acquired all of the issued and outstanding shares of Tech One. In consideration for Spey's purchase of the Tech One shares, Spey issued a total of 23.5 million shares to the sellers.
Phil Thomas is also one of the founders of the private Singapore technology company Ekosolve and Ekos Pty Ltd run by Dr Carlos Sorentino a chemical engineer and University Of Melbourne are the other partners.

 Spey Abbildung 1 Die Provinz Salta liegt direkt an der Grenze zu Chile

Figure 1: The province of Salta is located directly on the border with Chile. The claims of AIS/One Tech Lithium (red) are directly adjacent to those of the Chinese lithium producer Gangfeng and are located at the southern edge of the Incahuasi salar, which also marks the lowest point of the salar.

 

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In accordance with §34b WpHG and § 48f Abs. 5 BörseG (Austria) we would like to point out that GOLDINVEST Consulting GmbH and/or partners, principals or employees of GOLDINVEST Consulting GmbH hold shares in Spey Resources and therefore a conflict of interest exists. GOLDINVEST Consulting GmbH also reserves the right to buy or sell shares in the company at any time. Furthermore, a contractual relationship exists between Spey Resources and GOLDINVEST Consulting GmbH which involves GOLDINVEST Consulting GmbH reporting on Spey Resources. This is another clear conflict of interest.