* Share price up more 250 percent this year
* MGX says technology a major breakthrough, analysts sceptical
By Barbara Lewis
LONDON, Jan 30 (Reuters) - Canada’s MGX Minerals is close to completing testing of technology that uses brine from oilfields aiming to shorten the production of lithium to just one day, CEO Jared Lazerson told Reuters.
Hopes for the trial and plans to expand have helped boost MGX’s share price by more than 250 percent this month, with its market capitalisation topping C$100 million ($76 million), Reuters data shows.
Lithium, known as white petroleum, is used in rechargeable batteries needed for mobile phones and electric cars.
More than half of the Earth’s identified sources of it are in the “lithium triangle” of high-altitude lakes and salt flats that straddles Chile, Argentina and Bolivia.
Production there is cheap as the sun evaporates salt pools, but the process can take 18 months.
MGX Minerals is instead focused on oilfields, which Lazerson said also offer rich terrain.
The process it is testing uses oilfield wastewater containing lithium in what Lazerson said is “an amazing twist of fate” as it links the traditional fossil fuel sector with renewable energy.
Lazerson said MGX’s pilot project would be complete within 60 days and installed at one of the company’s project sites with a major oil company operator.
He would not name the oil company, but said MGX had agreements with “almost all major and some mid-tier oil companies”.
The pilot will handle around 300 barrels per day (bpd) of brine and the initial commercial target is to process 60,000 bpd.
Those likely to be interested in MGX’s progress include Britain’s Cornish Lithium, which announced a mineral rights agreement this month with another Canadian miner, Strongbow Exploration.
Lazerson said he could not comment on whether his technology would work on Cornwall’s brine springs, but said working in oilfields had advantages of scale and infrastructure.
Many analysts are sceptical as the prospect of a surge in demand from electric vehicles is driving a wealth of lithium projects, not all of which are expected to succeed.
“My belief is that if you want to stay in the lithium game, you need to be a low-cost producer,” said Jon Hykawy, president at research company Stormcrow Capital.
Cost is more important than speed, he said, in that once a pipeline has been established, lithium is consistently produced.
He and other analysts say the economics in Chile, where lithium concentrations are high and evaporation conditions are optimal, are hard to beat. (Additional reporting by Susan Taylor in Toronto; editing by Jason Neely)