Midland Reporter | Element3 Extracts Lithium from Permian Wastewater

Element3 has successfully extracted lithium from oil and gas wastewater in the Permian Basin using its innovative direct lithium extraction technology, achieving over 85% lithium recovery. This breakthrough reduces U.S. reliance on foreign lithium sources and paves the way for sustainable, commercial-scale operations.

Element3 Extracts Lithium from Permian Wastewater
The field test was conducted with wastewater from a subsidiary of Double Eagle Energy Holdings’ produced water recycling facility.

By Mella McEwen, Oil Editor
Feb 9, 2024

Long considered oil field waste, the water that is produced alongside crude oil and natural gas is proving it could become an invaluable resource.

As the energy industry looks for ways to recycle and reuse that produced water in its operations and researchers look for ways to turn it into a water source for people, others are learning to extract valuable minerals from the water.

Element3 announced earlier this month it has successfully extracted lithium chloride from produced water provided by Double Eagle Energy Holdings IV and its subsidiary’s produced water recycling facility.

Hood Whitson, founder and chief executive officer of Element3, said he watched critical minerals like lithium be extracted through strip mining and the use of potable water needed by humans and animals.

“I started this with the idea of oil and gas wastewater as a feedstock,” Whitson said during a video interview with the Reporter-Telegram.

Whitson and his team approached various Permian Basin operators – given the large amounts of produced water in the region – and found interest from Double Eagle.

“Hood and his team first approached me in 2022, and I was immediately supportive of their vision,” Joshua Gregg, chief financial officer of Double Eagle, said during the video interview. “Hood and his company presented an opportunity to source critical minerals within the United States from a waste product. This initiative significantly reduces the United States' reliance on foreign countries for resources, particularly China for battery materials.”

Gregg added that Double Eagle founders and co-chief executive officers John Sellers and Cody Campbell joined him in recognizing the strategic importance of supporting companies like Element3.

He said they felt Whitson’s proposal was a unique opportunity to let Element3 test its technology.

It has been widely believed lithium chloride could not be extracted from produced water in meaningful quantities without first concentrating the wastewater. Element3 has a patent-pending direct lithium extraction technology that eliminates the need for pre-concentration.

The test at Double Eagle’s recycling facility aligned with Element3’s expectations of recovering more than 85% of the lithium contained in the wastewater with a concentration of less than 40 parts per million lithium. Independent third-party testing verified the lithium chloride produced has the concentration and purity required to create battery-grade lithium carbonate.

For Whitson, extracting lithium “is a great place to start with the energy transition.”

He pointed out that lithium batteries, beyond powering cell phones, smartwatches and more, are playing an increasingly important role in the electric grid and he predicts continued growth in demand for lithium.

With the field test proving Element3’s technology can successfully, economically and sustainably extract lithium from low concentration produced water, he said he hopes to move into larger commercial demonstrations.

“Our aim is to keep running pilot projects and prove what we’re doing,” he said, adding that he’s interested in working with a wide swath of oil and gas operators.

Said Gregg, “Element3 is the company that both the government and investors have been searching for in the critical materials sector – it is environmentally friendly and profitable. We are fortunate to have such an innovative company right here in Texas, focused on the Permian Basin.”

That the company has figured out how to get lithium from wastewater in an environmentally sustainable way and profitably “gets us excited,” said Gregg.

Mella McEwen is the Oil Editor for the Midland Reporter-Telegram.