Getting regulations right key to unlocking Alberta’s next energy economy

At first glance, it doesn’t look like much: a room at the University of Calgary’s research park filled with pumps, valves and gauges. But it’s a new technology that could be the beginnings of a new multi-billion dollar industry.

“Alberta can be one of the largest global producers of lithium, based on the resources that we have here in the province,” said Chris Doornbos, CEO of E3 Metals.

Lithium has become a multi-million dollar industry and continues to grow with the increased use of electric vehicles, portable devices and mobile gadgets.

E3 Metals is designing technology to pull lithium out of the same brine Alberta companies have been removing from conventional oil production for generations.

It involves pumping the brine through an ion exchange process that removes the lithium, and then pumps the brine back underground.

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It’s proven to be very effective in the lab, the next step is to take the technology out into the field for testing later this year.

The ultimate goal is to achieve commercial production in three to five years.

“We’ve got some of the biggest milestones of the company happening in these next 18 months.”

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E3 Metals CEO Chris Doornbos looking over the results of the companies lithium extraction technology at the University of Calgary. Global News

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As auto manufacturers march towards developing electric vehicles, demand for lithium is surging, and companies around the world are working just like E3 to get a share of that market.

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“Literally a goldrush around the world for countries positioning themselves to win in this new supply chain,” said Dan Wicklum, the CEO of the Transition Accelerator.

“The debate’s over — we will see massive electrification going forward.”

To capitalize on this, Wicklum says governments need to create the proper conditions and regulatory framework for companies to invest.

“Defining the future energy systems — the ones we know are going to work for us — what they’re going to look like in the future, and building a pathway to them.”

The Alberta government has started this work. In the fall session, it passed Bill 82 — legislation that creates a regulatory framework for rare earth minerals, and gives the Alberta Energy Regulator oversight. This was the first update in two decades to Alberta’s mineral strategy.

Read more: Province introducing legislation aimed at streamlining, regulating mineral development

“There’s been such a focus on oil and gas, so it kind of took up all the oxygen in the room when it came to mining exploration,” Premier Jason Kenney told Global News in a year-end interview.

“We didn’t really have a robust regulatory framework.”

Chris Doornbos says the legislation gives the company a clear path to move forward on permits, and hopefully being on the leading edge of a brand new industry.

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“We have a great opportunity to grow into this market because it is expanding rapidly, and there’s lots of gaps to fill that we can fill here in Alberta.”

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