Vancouver, British Columbia-based Standard Lithium has purchased 118 acres of timberland on Arkansas 29 in Lafayette County for its planned stand-alone $1.3 billion lithium extraction and refinement plant, scheduled to open in 2027.
That's a year after Standard Lithium's smaller $365 million El Dorado plant is scheduled to become fully operational.
The smaller plant does not need extraction infrastructure, as it has plans to extract lithium from brine that Cologne, Germany-based chemicals company Lanxess pumps from the deep-underground Smackover Formation to extract bromine.
Standard Lithium Chief Executive Officer Robert Mintak told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette earlier this month that his company will seek financing once it signs an agreement with Lanxess.
The Lafayette County plant, located just south of Lewisville and approximately 15 miles west of Magnolia, is projected to produce significantly more lithium than the plant near El Dorado, about 33,000 tons annually versus 5,900 tons. It is also predicted to last longer, at least until 2052 compared with at least 2046.
Tens of thousands of barrels of brine will be needed for each ton of lithium produced.
Standard Lithium plans to do a front-end engineering design and definitive feasibility study for the site next year and to begin construction in 2025. Mintak earlier misidentified the project's total cost as $1.4 billion.
Company President and Chief Operations Officer Andy Robinson said in a statement, "The land purchase demonstrates our commitment to advancing and de-risking the South West Arkansas Project. The land, which lies to the south west of the SWA Project's brine lease footprint, is ideally located close to a paved highway, robust regional infrastructure and a skilled workforce."
An estimated 91 employees are expected to work at the project when it begins commercial production.
Lafayette County Judge Valarie Clark said in an interview that the plant stands to benefit the area immensely, both during its construction and after it opens.
"It's going to help in tax revenue from the construction revenue all the way through. We'll have an influx of people coming into the county, and that's always a positive," she said.
A partnership is planned with the University of Arkansas Community College-Hope Texarkana to ensure specific courses to prepare locals for jobs at the plant. Given a two years' notice before the scheduled start of construction, Clark said she is sure the county has time to prepare for the housing and other demands associated with the project.
The Wall Street Journal reported in July that Exxon Mobil plans to build its own plant near Magnolia that could produce 110,000 tons of lithium a year.
Australia leads the world in lithium production, mining most of it from the mineral spodumene. Chile is the world's second-biggest producer, producing it, as fourth-biggest producer Argentina does, from brine.
The United States has some of the world's largest lithium reserves, as in South America, dissolved in brine. Open-air evaporation reservoirs are not logistically possible because the Smackover Formation is not overlaying a desert, so local producers aim to use industrial technology that absorbs lithium out of brine, refining away undesired particles.
The brine is then pumped back up to 8,000 feet underground, avoiding fresh-water aquifers.
Lithium is in high demand now because of its use in electric vehicle batteries. Most of Australia's goes to China, which has also emerged as an electric vehicle manufacturer.