A new research collaboration could pave the way to diversifying the economy in northeast British Columbia and to providing a new source of lithium, a metal critical for clean technologies.
Similar research in Alberta and Saskatchewan has shown potential for extracting lithium from brines and has led to significant investment and economic development. Despite similar geology, the same research has not yet been conducted in BC’s northeast. All results from the project will be peer-reviewed before being made publicly available through Geoscience BC.
The NEBC Lithium - Formation Water Database project will assess concentrations of lithium and other important elements in saltwater (brines) in the region’s formations by taking samples from existing natural gas and oil wells.
Project partners are Geoscience BC, LithiumBank and Northern Development. The Geological Survey of Canada will receive brine samples for their complementary lithium research, and will provide sampling analysis support in return. A team from Canadian Discovery and Matrix Solutions has prioritized a list of existing natural gas wells and is discussing access and sampling with operators.
Communities and Indigenous groups in the region have been informed and encouraged to provide feedback on the project. The project team plans to collect hundreds of samples from up to 12 different subsurface formations.
The samples will be analyzed before producing a database and suite of maps for the sampled formations, including lithium concentration maps. According to a World Bank report, demand for minerals and metals such as lithium used in clean energy technologies could grow by nearly 500% by 2050. Lithium is included on the Government of Canada’s Critical Minerals List as one of 31 minerals and metals that are “critical for the sustainable economic success of Canada and our allies and to position Canada as the leading mining nation as set out in the Canadian Minerals and Metals Plan”
Commenting on the new research, the Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Natural Resources Canada said: “Lithium is critical for the battery supply chain and electric vehicle revolution, and plays a key role in our fight against climate change. This project is the type of innovative research that pushes the envelope to create a pathway to net zero that will create jobs and economic opportunity.”
Geoscience BC President and Chief Executive Officer Gavin C. Dirom said: “This research is the first step in identifying if brines found in the region may be enriched with enough lithium to make extraction viable. It is innovative research with the potential to spur a new industry in northeast British Columbia.”
Rob Shewchuk, Chairman and CEO, LithiumBank said: “Electrification and the green energy transition are bringing opportunities for all Canadians throughout the battery supply chain, of which lithium is a critical component. This collaboration will inform exploration for lithium in northeast BC, and will help conversations with industry, government, communities and Indigenous groups.”
Joel McKay, CEO, Northern Development Initiative Trust said Northern Development is pleased to support a project that could result in significant long term economic benefits in the region.
"As demand for electric vehicles continues to grow so does the demand for lithium and the potential to create a new industry while utilizing the infrastructure and a highly trained workforce that already exists within the Northeast region.”
Canadian Discovery is contacting operators of relevant natural gas and oil wells in the region. If your organization would like to take part in the program, please contact Christa Williams at Canadian Discovery: firstname.lastname@example.org.