Lithium mining innovators secure investment from Bill Gates-led fund

Matthew Hall 20 February 2020 (Last Updated February 20th, 2020 11:55)

Lilac Solutions, a mining technology company aiming to improve the efficiency and sustainability of lithium extraction, has secured $20m in Series A funding. The investment is led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a $1bn fund established in 2015 by Bill Gates and a number of private investors that provides investment for companies with innovative solutions to tackle the climate crisis. Participants in this round of funding include other environmentally-minded investors including MIT’s The Engine fund and Lowercarbon Capital. Series A funding is a form of investment provided to companies with a viable monetisation strategy for their businesses.

Lithium mining innovators secure investment from Bill Gates-led fund
Lithium-ion batteries are increasingly in demand for powering electric vehicles, a growth market that could see sales of 44 million electric vehicles per year by 2030, according to figures from the IEA. Image: Doc Searls on Flickr

Lilac Solutions, a mining technology company aiming to improve the efficiency and sustainability of lithium extraction, has secured $20m in Series A funding. The investment is led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a $1bn fund established in 2015 by Bill Gates and a number of private investors that provides investment for companies with innovative solutions to tackle the climate crisis. Participants in this round of funding include other environmentally-minded investors including MIT’s The Engine fund and Lowercarbon Capital. Series A funding is a form of investment provided to companies with a viable monetisation strategy for their businesses.

Lithium-ion batteries are increasingly in demand for powering electric vehicles, a growth market that could see sales of 44 million electric vehicles per year by 2030, according to figures from the International Energy Agency (IEA). Lithium-ion batteries are also used for storing renewable energy.

While there is enough lithium in the ground to meet demand, Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates less than 1% of the world’s lithium reserves will be depleted over the next dozen years, and there are concerns production will not meet demand. Some analysts forecast a lithium shortfall as early as 2023 as demand for the metal grows.

The current extraction method for lithium is to pump underground deposits of briny water to the surface, leaving the water in large salt ponds and letting the water evaporate. The remains are then treated with chemicals and processed and filtered to leave lithium. According to Lilac Solutions, this method provides just 40% lithium recovery.

The existing process also uses large amounts of water, often in countries that are already water-stressed. Each ton of lithium extracted from brine requires an estimated 70,000 litres of fresh water.

Lilac Solutions says the current processes for lithium extraction are inefficient, expensive, and cannot deliver in volumes necessary for an electric vehicle future. The company is working to commercialise a new ion exchange technology that is faster, cheaper, and more scalable than the existing method.

Lilac Solutions founder and CEO Dave Snydacker said: “The Lilac team couldn’t be more excited to have this spectacular group of investors support us and our vision to modernise lithium production. With Lilac unlocking significant new supplies of lithium, battery manufacturers are poised for decades of growth as the world transitions to electric vehicles and renewable power.”