Lithium Mining is expected to deliver the lithium-ion battery industry 500’000 metric tons a year. Sure, conventional lithium supply will grow by 300% over the next decade but that will still not be sufficient! Hence, it might be an opportunity to get creative and to look for lithium in… water. How? Let’s review.
with 🎙️ Benjamin Sparrow – CEO and Co-Founder at Saltworks Technologies
💧 Saltworks provides innovative products and solutions for industrial wastewater treatment and desalination.
What we covered:
🤔 How we will need a lot more lithium to cover the World’s needs over the next decade – and how conventional sources might not be sufficient
💰 How a lot of money and investments flow to the battery production industry, and surprisingly much less to the lithium mining sector
💪 How industrial wastewater could actually be an incredible source of lithium – and how to mine it
🦸♂️ What DLE and CRC stand for – and why Direct Lithium Extraction and Concentrating, Refining, and Converting are a key to the future of Lithium-Ion batteries
🚀 How Saltworks’ technology was first used by… NASA!
♻️ How Saltworks’ approach to Lithium Mining is an incredible example of circular economy done right
🛠️ How Saltworks’ adventure started in a garage – and how they may well be back in it for a stealth project
🔁 How the company pivoted its original approach and what milestones they would have to reach before returning to it
🧑🔬 How their technology can be summarized as a way to split columns in the periodic table of the elements
📈 How much of a hot Wall Street’s prospect Direct Lithium Extraction is right now (and what to think about it)
⛪ How the church of England may well be the most influential and surprising impact investor out there
🤝 Striving out of the box, water and its compounds being on the industrial’s critical path, fostering the right team spirit, crossing the valley of death, caring and aiming for turbocharged solutions… and much more!
🔥 … and of course, we concluded with the 𝙧𝙖𝙥𝙞𝙙 𝙛𝙞𝙧𝙚 𝙦𝙪𝙚𝙨𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣𝙨 🔥
🔗 Have a look at Saltworks‘ website
🔗 Come say hi to Benjamin on Linkedin
is on Linkedin ➡️
Infographic: Lithium MiningInfographic-Benjamin-Sparrow-Saltworks-Lithium-Mining
Table of contents
These are computer-generated, so expect some typos 🙂
Get Season 2's Summary!
Antoine Walter: Hi, Benjamin. Welcome to the show.
Benjamin Sparrow: Good morning from Vancouver.
Antoine Walter: That makes for the best and the smoothest of all transitions to ask you to send me a postcard from Vancouver.
Benjamin Sparrow: Well, in Vancouver, it’s a rare, beautiful sunny day. The spring is arriving after a long winter with lots of rain
Antoine Walter: my past guests from Vancouver told me it’s a rainforest. Is it really true?
Benjamin Sparrow: It is a beautiful place. Lots of rain, lots of fresh water. And surprisingly, even though Canada has an abundance of fresh water, we also tend to have an abundance of water technology companies who are working to develop the next generation of water technologies.
Antoine Walter: And one of this abundance of companies you mentioned is Saltworks, the company you created and co-founded if I’m right. So can you tell me what Saltworks is? So you elevator pitch to Saltworks and what led you to create Saltworks.
Benjamin Sparrow: Our official elevator pitches that we deliver innovative solutions that treat industrial wastewaters more specifically concentrating Brines, RO rejects, achieving zero liquid discharge and increasingly so refining lithium. What led us to start solver was to develop technologies. That industry would need after 2020.
And of course, we started a decade earlier, as you know, you need to in the water industry.
Antoine Walter: I’m just wondering of all the possibilities you could have if you want to create a business. So if you want to go, even in the water industry, why did you pick these tough wastewaters these brines and why you say that is going to be your areas?.
Benjamin Sparrow: The same reason that I’m a sailor, I’m a masochist. water and have a deep amount of deep appreciation of water, the aquatic environment and the ecosystem in the ocean, but one needs a tremendous amount of patience in the water industry. Don’t get me wrong. It would have been far easier to be in an entrepreneur in the real estate field or other fields but water something special.
And we both know that not only is it essential for life, but it’s also probably one of the most undervalued and overlooked, important elements on the planet. And I do not want to use the word commodity
Antoine Walter: So you’re looking at this very specific area of the very difficult to treat wastewaters. And you said you’re trying to concentrate those brines. What was the challenge when you started all of that? And is it really different now that you’re not going to 10 years early, but that you’re in the middle of the game?
Benjamin Sparrow: five years ago, I would say that was warm up. And now using a baseball analogy, it’s really inning, one of industrial wastewater recycling. So they’re like good discharge and lithium. It’s still very. Early in the game. But getting back to what led us into this field in all honesty, when we started, we were most interested in sea water desalination, working on developing technologies, literally out of a garage.
We weren’t a university back startup. We were a bunch of motivated young engineers who wanted to explore technology in different ways of doing things. And we patent. And built a pilot of a pretty novel prototype. It was operating on seawater, right in Vancouver abroad inlet, and doing some very interesting things.
And we kept all of that in stealth for a little over a year. And then when we came out of stealth industry came knocking and said, well, hang on. This is seawater desalination. And your whole innovation is based on using low grade heat and atmospheric dryness. And these industries said, well, we don’t have that.
But what we do have is we have lots of salty water and lots of waste heat. Can you help us put the two together to generate fresh water? And that’s what got us on the industrial water recycling track. That’s also what led to our first series a investments from some major industrial companies.
Antoine Walter: Series A, is that when BP came on board or was that later?.
Benjamin Sparrow: That’s correct. Series a was a combination of industrials. British petroleum was one of them. ConocoPhillips tech resources. Who’s a large integrated mining company in Canada and Synovis energy, a large integrated oil sands company in Canada. Prior to that, we had some seed and founding investments, including from an engineering company night peaceful, but the majority of the company is still owned by the employees!
Antoine Walter: So when you have these kinds of company, which are. Investing in you from your Series A on, I guess the good sign that you’re onto something, which is really specific
Benjamin Sparrow: We hope So we were fortunate to have them as investors because they were focused on the same mission, robust, reliable technology for Industry Not a quick pumping shit at sales and a share price and then a sale, but really focusing on the core technology the industry needed. And that alignment of mission was critical for us.
Antoine Walter: So you were starting from that idea that you would be solving a challenge the, in the municipal world. In the industrial world. What is the first project you were working on and what did you actually solve with that very first project?
Benjamin Sparrow: Interesting you ask. The first project was quite literally out of this world. Our very first purchase order was from NASA using our advanced ion exchange membrane technology, a novel. On the ground to explore water recycle on the space station and NASA they had a very intelligent gentlemen who believed in what we were doing and that really led to a kickstart and it helped us with the industrial customers, because then our industrial customers, the engineers who equally thought it was worth taking, look, we’re able to report to their higher ups while they’re working for NASA.
So if it’s good enough for NASA, maybe we should take a look. That’s what kick-started at all for us on the commercial sales side.
Antoine Walter: Yeah, I guess when you have that on your business card, that’s your NASA approved? That must be opening doors. I can imagine. I had Cambrian innovation that the microphone now a long while ago, and they were also selected and picked by it by NASA. So it sounds like NASA has a track record of discovering fascinating new technologies and bringing them a bit further.
I mean, giving them a bit early street creds, if I might say so.
Benjamin Sparrow: You’re split on and the they’re doing something important, not only with the science that they do, but they are pumping wind into the sails of innovators out there. And whether it goes to the Space Station or not, a lot of these technologies end up adding value back here, on terra nova
Antoine Walter: So you mentioned ion exchange membranes. What is exactly your special sauce and the core of your technology?
Benjamin Sparrow: salt works. Isn’t a single technology. Saltworks mission is to pioneer the future sustainable water. And now increasingly so lithium extraction. we focus on delivering solutions. Those solutions can be a system that can be a unit operator. Or they can be a core individual technology. So we do a variety of things, all focused around recycling, industrial wastewater, and extracting lithium.
But to answer your.
question about our secret sauce in terms of ion exchange membranes, we have brilliant scientists who developed a highly robust homogeneous ion exchange membrane. What does that mean? It’s a polymer that’s cast as a uniform polymer. There’s not multiple layers. It can operate and perform in the face of solvent.
So we previously dissolve membranes or cause challenges for them. So hence the oil and gas link to some of our shareholders. And the very interestingly, what it can do is you can split columns in the periodic table of the elements, so it can split monovalent and divalent ions. No doubt nanofiltration can do that.
And that has a fit and we use it to, and to compete against it. These monovalent selective membranes. They’re a technology that I described as a niche technology, where it has a fit. It fits extremely well, but it’s not a solution for all. And that focus is recycling waste waters that are blown down based on chlorides.
We do a whole pile of other things as well. Again, all however, focused around industrial wastewater, reuse and extraction and refining of lithium.
Antoine Walter: what’s this extraction and refining of lithium there from day one, or did it grow at some point when you discovered your technology was able to do that, or your portfolio of technologies was able to do.
Benjamin Sparrow: It grew over time. We were no doubt aware of it and keeping an eye on it. And then the lithium industry started to pull us into their industry. The exact same technologies that we use for manipulating ions and water to recycle challenging industrial wastewaters are the same technology and kit that we use to extract and refine lithium.
They do not look any differently. So here we have a widget and we can apply it in two different key markets. Beneficially. Both of those markets are hopefully contributing something positive to the future of the planet.
Antoine Walter: Actually I have to tell you I’m somehow 90 episode in, into that podcast. And still sometimes I stumbled upon a Gem, , like your process of extracting lithium, and I might be a total layman in Littleton Mughal, and that might be common sense. But to me it was absolutely new and it was like, oh gosh, In the words, which is looking for electrification, which is looking for more batteries and everything, and which on the same hand as this water scarcity problem, and which tries to solve this water scarcity problem with more desalination, which also creates a new problem with more brines. And you’ll come in and say, wait, there are two problems.
And I kill two birds with one stone. It sounds almost too good to be true.
Benjamin Sparrow: now. You’re right. And it is too good to be true. These technologies are not a fit everywhere, but we’re seeing that they are needed technologies. Don’t believe me, believe purchase orders. Believe financial growth. Believe profitability. And So, both business lines selling the same technologies are doing very well and the demand is increasing rapidly.
Antoine Walter: What is the main outcome to date? Going to industries and bring this lithium elements as a welcome side effects. Or are you targeting especially that lithium production. So you become a direct competition to their salaries and the salt lakes of this word, which are producing lithium today
Benjamin Sparrow: in the lithium extraction industry, It’s very unique. So I wouldn’t call us a competitor because there’s so much insatiable demand. Put simply I’ve heard this quoted elsewhere that 10 times more capital is going into battery manufacturing plants than lithium extraction itself. And so you can build all these battery plants in the world that you want, but the big concern that many people fear and even mystery Elon Musk was tweeting about this recently is there going to be enough lithium to supply those battery packs?
We need all the lithium that we can find. The salars are a very good resource. You can take technologies like what Saltworks does and others, and bolt them onto the solars and it will boost their production. You can equally take technologies like what Saltworks does and others and you can extract lithium from unconventional resources, specifically places in north America or Europe that have not been blessed by mother nature, the same way that the solars have with really beneficial chemistry and a native evaporation climate. Evaporation ponds don’t fit very well in north America or Europe, both from an environmental standpoint in terms of atmospheric and operation, but also from a geography and land cost, et cetera.
Antoine Walter: So if we compare it one-to-one, which is, I guess totally stupid. But if you compare one to one seller and your process, what is the magnitudes in the difference in cost between one and the other, just to see. If we are speaking of a totally different scale, or if you could be wiping out the process, which takes one year to produce some lithium
Benjamin Sparrow: we would never wipe that out. Absolutely not. And nor would we compete with it, If there wasn’t an insatiable demand for lithium and I had $10 to invest and there was room to expand the solars, I would put nine and a half of those dollars into the suppliers. It’s a proven process.
It is much more economical than let’s call it the machinery way of extracting lithium. It has its challenges. Some of those are overstated by certain companies are trying to sell their magic beans. But the solars work. And when they’re managed quite effectively their environmental performance can be not that bad and equally the statements about how solars take 18 months to start up and produce lithium.
Well, sure. That might be true. But producing, installing machinery also takes 18 month. And at the end of the day, and I’ll quote somebody else here, but at the end of the day, a 20,000 ton per year, lithium plant, whether it’s a salon or a machinery based one is a 20,000 ton per year. Once it started up, it’s pushing out 20,000 tons per year
one reads online about a lot, is taking a long time to start up, but they also need to think about the time it takes to produce install and start up the machinery based plant
Antoine Walter: So, what is the typical treatment train that you put in those processes? Where does it start? Where does it end? What’s your core technology in that? And what do you source by third-party?
Benjamin Sparrow: Sure. So the typical treatment train, which has not been practiced by anybody, not a full scale in north America or Europe yet is two step. Step one direct lithium extraction, also known as DLE. And then step two, CRC concentrate, refine and convert Saltworks, please specifically in step two, concentrate, refine and convert.
That’s exactly what the ponds do it. So in the solars they concentrate and then they add chemicals. Neighbor. Fine. So salt works is a machinery based CRC company, concentrate, refining convert. We can bolt on to a lithium resources without that step one that I spoke about and I’ll get into more detail in a second.
But we’re also finding that our technology is a very good fit for after. Now DLE is still a nascent technology, and I can get into that and explain it. If you like we’re daily agnostic, we work with various DLE players. We help them get the best results after their DLE step, which is where they take dilute lithium out of the ground, often in a very salient brine.
And they try to turn that into what we call a dirty lithium chloride solution. It’s less dirty than it was coming out of the ground. It still has pollutants in it. It might be slightly concentrated, but it’s more beneficial to refine. Equally that DLE process it’s extract could go into an evaporation pond and you could practice what the solars do.
You would boost the performance of facilities and I can get into DOE with more into more details if you’d like.
Antoine Walter: Yeah, sure.
Benjamin Sparrow: Okay. So, one very important thing to remember about DLE. Actually there’s a couple first off there’s many billions of dollars of a bet on the stock market wall street on DLE. So a huge amount of capital is behind it and a very rapid pace of innovation. However, Opinion of one, some other share, nobody would like daily to work and to be economic better than the folks who operate the solars, the evaporation ponds.
They’ve been looking at it for 20 years. They would love to be able to put a DLE technology upstream of their ponds that would concentrate the lithium, reduce the TDS. All of a sudden your evaporation pond infrastructure that is built you’d boost the production company. Maybe two X, maybe four X, depending on the daily claims, maybe 10 X.
So there’s a huge business case for them to adopt DLE. The reasons they haven’t, however, is the cost. And very specifically the wash water. DLE, the way it runs today, consumes notable quantities of wash water. And when you’re in the desert, you have very little fresh water. And so again, coming back to the innovation to capital being important is that if people can solve that wash water problem, if they can lower the cost, if they can improve performance, then DLE will have a brighter future.
I never explained what DLE is, what DOE is in its current form is it’s essentially ion exchange. There’s different types of it, but you flow the brine containing lithium pass and absorbing material. It might be a resin or a powder or a bead lithium absorbs onto that material. You then wash that resin powder, a beat with wash water to push the brine out.
And then you dilute the lithium from that absorbent material. Sometimes you use water do that. Sometimes you use hydrochloric acid. And so at the end of the day, what you’re left with is a lithium chloride solution. With some pollutants and then you get into the step to CRC concentrate, refining converted, and that’s where SolidWorks starts.
Antoine Walter: let me try to guess. So CRC, so that’s what you do. Concentrate must be a membrane process.
Benjamin Sparrow: Yes. Yeah, to the maximum extent possible. And then one needs to get into boiling water.
Antoine Walter: Okay. Then refine here. I’m out of ideas.
Benjamin Sparrow: Sure. Sure. We use our Brine refining technology and or ion exchange resins. This is where you remove pollutants for the lithium bi-products calcium, magnesium, they’re the usual suspects,
Antoine Walter: Okay. And convert.
Benjamin Sparrow: Convert is you convert. So now you have a concentrated juice step solution of lithium chloride, And then you convert it into something that the battery manufacturers can take Listen, carbon. Or lithium hydroxide one way to do it. Does he take that with him? Chloride solution and you add sodium bicarbonate or soda Ash and you’ll precipitate lithium carbonate sounds easy to do it to battery grade, there’s a ton of technology involved, or you can convert it to lithium hydroxide.
And there’s two pathways to do that. I can get into it if you like.
Antoine Walter: Well before that’s I let the engineering me be excited about the process. That’s why I’m going to know him in the nitty gritty details of the techniques, but I’m coming back to my question about what the core of what you do. So if I take the CRC, if I get it right, the core of your unique edge in that market comes in the first two ones, concentrate and refine.
So the membranes and the a and exchange.
Benjamin Sparrow: Concentrate, refine, but also conversion to and crystallized. And
Antoine Walter: read the full CRC.
Benjamin Sparrow: exactly in the exact same kit that we use to help industry recycle industrial waste water. We refine, remove pollutants. We concentrate with membrane systems to the maximum extent possible. And then in ZLD, we crystallize the same kit, found another thing that is.
Antoine Walter: And that is what surprised me as well when I was really diving in the rabbit hole. That’s, that your website was for me when I was preparing for the discussion. Is that. I know in that ZLD sphere, some EPC companies that really assume that they don’t have like in-house technologies and they would just bundle everything.
And I know pure players, which are really one of those steps and would be just promoting one of these steps. And you’re this hybrid, which I could do. Really grab and find the angle to understand exactly how you do. For instance, I saw that you were promoting NX Filtration, you’re promoting a third part, which is then inside your full process.
I guess you must have a kind of partnership. And I’m wondering, how do you define yourself in that market
Benjamin Sparrow: We define ourself as a solution provider. Some of those solutions are proprietary and internal. Some of them are the best available off the shelf. Some of them are conventional. At some time solutions for a customer can mean a complete process, an entire plant, or it can mean a singular unit operation.
It can often start with an engineering study or a pilot study. So we do know that some analysts and others struggle to fit us in a box. Being innovators and entrepreneurs, we tend not like to be fitted in a box. our focus is for our customers solutions for the customers, not necessarily for how the analysts might like to put us into a box.
Antoine Walter: Then, let me play one of your customers. So first tell me who am I, if I’m your typical customer?
Benjamin Sparrow: Our typical customer you’d be often these days, you’re a blue chip manufacturer or a large mining company. You have an industrial wastewater, you’re trying to either expand your plant or your mind, or maintain your license to operate. And do you have a discharge problem?
Antoine Walter: My struggle is that I’m not allowed to discharge any more, or I don’t meet the quality for the discharge and hence, and looking for a better solution and I come to you.
Benjamin Sparrow: Correct. Correct. Often the drivers, these days are economic expansion. You may have a factor you’re looking to boost capacity. One of the bottlenecks of abuse in that capacity is you’ll have too much discharge too much GDS in your discharge or too much of a specific guy in your discharge. And that’s where we help clients.
Attack those bad actors, get them out of their discharge, recycle water, and then they can put more kid under their hood and produce more output from their factory. And the same is true for mines.
Antoine Walter: But so you would read, take me by the hands and start by analyzing my problem. Probably analyzing my water sample and tell me that’s the treatment train you need.
Benjamin Sparrow: Exactly. Often we do it in a consultative environment with our clients, so we’ll provide them with options. Right. So they may have three options and just like people, they all have their pros and cons and we help the client walk through that and understand it. And then that helps them orientate their compass.
And then once they’re compass is orientated, depending on their risk appetite, we can jump in and build a full-scale plant, or we can also help them with a pilot to de-risk and help them build the business case in turn.
Antoine Walter: So there’s the pilots you convince me. I want to go for the full scale. So I hire Saltworks to do the full scale. What is the typical way I would hire you as it’s a CapEx sale? So I buy your system or is it’s a different business model.
Benjamin Sparrow: Sure again, it’s the solution to the customer needs. So we’re fortunate that we can be very flexible in that regard. We will do CapEx sales and most of our blue chip customers prefer a cap ex sale over water as a service. We have done CapEx sales with operations bolted on the back end, including remote support operations.
We’re open to water as a service, and we can finance plants. We haven’t done a lot of that yet. We found that our customers are less interested in that today as the industrial wastewater recycle field matures, you may start to see it going increasing that way as ultrapure water has gone that way.
Some clients specifically oil and gas, they’re more interested the service model.
but most of our clients, the factories in the mine sites much prefer the capital.
Antoine Walter: I’m a bit surprised, honestly. A couple of weeks ago I had Jonathan Rome the CEO of Axion water technologies. Might be your neighbors when we, or the other in Vancouver and their business model in this industrial waste water treatment words, it’s not the same way as they treat. They are more in the pharmaceutical field but they are 100 person wastewater as a service.
So why, if I seem not to know much myself because I’m now a mine. Why would I not prefer that wastewater or water treatment as a service model? Why do I want to have this Capex sale?
Benjamin Sparrow: We’d have to ask them. And Jonathan Ronan vaccine are a fantastic company, also located in Vancouver, BC, part of our water cluster. And you’re spot on it’s a different industry. There’s tends to be much smaller, higher strength flows that customers are putting in trucks and driving to incinerators are S.
Antoine Walter: a volume question.
Benjamin Sparrow: Yeah, ours tends to be our customers. And I think this is one of the reasons what drives them to a capital sale is they’ll D do deep due diligence because if their industrial wastewater plant isn’t working, they have to bottleneck production. You can’t just call up a truck to drive away 1000 cubic meters. And so they’re much more embedded in the decision and the risk, and it might be fine and dandy for water as a service company to come by and say, you know, we’ve got your problem. We’ll take care of it. Well, what happens if they can’t.
Antoine Walter: And so you, your blue chip customers, they extract always lithium or do they also extract other kinds of salts and minerals, metals from their waste?
Benjamin Sparrow: I’ll categories. The market in two buckets are blue chip and industrial water recycling customers and our mine sites. We’re not extracting lithium for any of them. We’re extracting water and minimizing their waste?
brine products. So to minimize what either, whether it be a storage pond minimize how many, how much residuals needed to truck away at the end of the day, or find novel ways to recycle.
Our lithium customers are just purely in the lithium industry. We are starting to see some crossover and a tremendous amount of interest in those who have found lithium in their wastewater. We probably get. half a dozen emails a day from somebody who suddenly discovered lithium in their wastewater.
And so we have to be quite careful with it, an interesting field that I’m keeping an eye on, and I encourage others to keep an eye on is the Petro lithium space. There are some oil and gas produced waters with decent quantities of lithium in them they’ll have their challenges, but they also have their advantages.
They have infrastructure in place. The water’s already brought to the surface. They have disposal Wells for the Brine rejec. Unlike a Greenfield lithium mine, where they may not even have roads to this. So, that started across over, we’ll see how it unfolds. Both are nascent industries, sailing, industrial water.
Recycling is relatively new, just as advanced lithium extraction is relatively new. But it’s an exciting time to be in the industry. And there’s no doubt of market demand out there.
Antoine Walter: And in phases, zoom out a bit. Your first idea was to look at the municipal water, and then you happened to find your product-market fit in the industrial world and you’re striving in the industrial world, but would you at some point be interested in returning to your first love somehow and and go into this municipal part of the.
Benjamin Sparrow: It’s actually really interesting. You asked that it’s a conversation among employees. Our employees are very proud of what they do and what they get to do every day at work. And we absolutely feel that we’re providing value to the planet. One thing we have not done is provided value back to humanity.
Human beings. That may happen one day. However, first we have to continue to grow, increase our strength and increase our might and our scale. Once that’s under control, then we can look at getting back into water for humans. But in the.
meantime, we are laser focused on protecting the most important water resource for humans, rivers, lakes, and groundwater.
If society protects those, they protect water for millennia.
Antoine Walter: You mentioned you would still have to grow. How big is Saltworks today?
Benjamin Sparrow: So we’re a hundred people by head count. That’s the core. Most of our team’s technical. So engineers chemists, And then really good builders, but then we subcontract out a lot of work. And if you include our subcontractors, that head count may become 200 to two 50.
Antoine Walter: And you are assembling out of.
Benjamin Sparrow: We are, I’m speaking to from our factory, which is also our headquarters, which is also our pilot site, which is also our R and D and innovation lab. So we’re really happy to have everything under one roof.
Antoine Walter: And what is your reach worldwide today? Do you have.
Benjamin Sparrow: Primarily we’re focused on north America, specifically the United States. It’s an excellent market for water technology and a very fair one to play in. But we do have plants elsewhere in the world. We’ve done some work in Australia and we’re increasingly getting into that market for doing some work in Chile.
And of course, getting pulled into Asia. We’ll see how that.
Antoine Walter: There’s a red thread. If there are some minds, you have a good business. So Australia, Chile, that sounds like pretty logic. And if you expand into petrochemical, then I guess middle east becomes a natural place to strive next.
Benjamin Sparrow: You’re spot on you’re characterizing the future. Well,
Antoine Walter: I’ve watched one of your YouTube videos where you were presenting Saltworks and you were saying that Saltworks ressembles a tiny little company, which has similar roots and that 10 little company was GE water now Suez soon. Yeah. And I was wondering if that is the path you would envision for Saltworks or if you have different ambitions?
Benjamin Sparrow: Sure. So I’m on a technical admiration point of view. Absolute. All of those three companies have just amazing technical people and I’ve got to say they have honest technical people, which is refreshing in the water industry. So we really appreciate the opportunity to compete against the new family that is GE Suez and Veolia.
We’ll never be to their size. We’ll never get into services and variety of services to the extent that they do. Our ambitious. Is to deliver full solutions just as they do with specific unit operations turbocharged. So we’ve had the benefit of being able to design our plants and our technologies and our production around modernized technology without a lot of legacy.
And that’s what our customers really appreciate too. So with us, they’ll get a a process that is turbocharged relative to its conventional pathway.
Antoine Walter: if I look on the horizon I’m making my mind since I’m wondering if I could think of a different company, which would be so aligned with E S and G I mean, you have a bit of all the elements of that, and we all know that eSG investment is a strong tailwind for all the companies doing good somehow right now.
I promise I’m not pushing you in a corner here. I’m just wondering what is your north star metric? What defines success for you? And for Saltworks?
Benjamin Sparrow: Ultimately it’s saving industrial customers’ money If we can make it more cost-effective for customers to recycle their industrial waste water, that will increase adoption. If we see more customers save money, we increase adoption. We increase scale. We increase reach so that these technologies that the team has worked so hard to develop and put into production have a greater reach, so scale, and that goes for both industrial water recycling, but also helping to extract more lithium to keep those battery plants full and to help penetration of EVs
Antoine Walter: You mentioned adoption. What is the biggest hurdle you’ve met when it comes to adoption?
Benjamin Sparrow: we definitely went through the valley of death. The hurdles are multiple mid it can depend on the customer. It could be that your balance sheets not big enough. It could be that the solution and the advantages are not compelling enough over conventional technology,
now with the rise of ESG and especially the concern that shareholders are showing over the environmental risks. That there are companies hold that starting to change. And this is why it’s a very exciting space to be in. The church of England has done more for. The industrial wastewater reuse sector in my view than any regulator has there ever has.
And they, they did so because they amassed a group of other shareholders who got very concerned about the water risk, a certain industrial company was facing. And then all of those shareholders started to speak with that large industrial company about it. And it’s really helped that industrial company focus on addressing their water risks.
It wasn’t a regulator.
Antoine Walter: It’s fascinating. First, he tells you how much of a layman. I am reading the topic because to me, I would have thought that policy is. Wind and your tails because policy must have to force industrials to treat their water to a certain standard. And here you jump in with a better solution in the better mouse trap.
But the story of the church of of England, I’ve never heard that. So.
Benjamin Sparrow: Yeah, it was their pension fund and they were a relatively small institutional investor. But then when the likes of BlackRock and other massive institutional investors start listening to them. It changed the tide and, you know, being honest within these large industrial companies, there’s a lot of people who really do care.
And a lot of people who are working hard to improve sustainability and that groundswell is growing previously. If I heard the term CSG before it was ESG as part of a business case, I would tune out like, okay, this is never going to turn into a purchase order, but now we’re really starting to see that. tide shift.
And it’s a combination of new blood in these companies. It’s a combination increased emphasis on sustainability. So.
there’s a perfect storm. For me. And it’s a good thing. What we’re finding is just as companies who get off paper, save money, those who can learn to recycle their industrial wastewater sooner may actually find that it makes them more profitable in the future.
Antoine Walter: thanks for having been my guide in the deep dive. I have to say, I didn’t lie to you in the sense that I was a muggle when I started. And I’m still layman when we end the deep dive, but it’s a fascinating world and I’d be happy to explore it a bit further. So maybe I’d have a new set of questions when I’m a bit more seasoned in the topic in some months, but it sounds to be a really fascinating area.
Benjamin Sparrow: I think you’re being humble and it is a fascinating area.
Antoine Walter: If that’s fine with you, I propose you to switch to the rapid fire questions.
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Rapid fire questions:
Antoine Walter: So in that last section, I try to keep the questions short and the aim is footage have the answers short as well, but I’m not getting the microphone like never. And my first question is what is the most exciting project you’ve been working on?
Benjamin Sparrow: Still technology development underway right now. I’m back in the garage and I’m sorry, I can’t tell you what, but it’s reignited the fire in my belly and a lot of the team.
Antoine Walter: Okay. That is whether the best teaser ever, or really frustrating but, okay. I take it. Can you name one thing that you’ve learned?
Benjamin Sparrow: Pick your partners carefully. And when I define partners, that’s investors, that’s partner, vendors, that’s customers. And. You know, test drive and crack the hood, beat the Bush the best and worst things I’ve done have all been through picking either the best or worst partners,
Antoine Walter: So do you have a scary story?
Benjamin Sparrow: What I probably shouldn’t get into, but I have a lot of successful stories.
Our senior management team is excellent. A hundred percent retention. They’re incredible. We have some fantastic partners and some incredible investors. I’ve certainly had to take a few turns and have some scars along the way. Pick your partners.
Antoine Walter: Is there something you are doing today in your job that you will not be doing?
Benjamin Sparrow: Hopefully not negotiating contract terms and conditions,
Antoine Walter: It’s crazy how often that answer comes. What is the trend to watch out for in the.
Benjamin Sparrow: industrial water recycle. There’s a lot of a lot going on in municipal wastewater, recycle industrial wastewater, recycle it’s growing at an incredible rate and some variation and things are.
Antoine Walter: If you were a word political leader, what would be your first action to influence the fate of the words? What a challenge.
Benjamin Sparrow: Stop using our rivers and oceans as a trash bin. Start in Asia.
Antoine Walter: And I’m adding a new rapid fire question today, which was proposed to me by John Robinson, from Mazarine ventures. What is your definition of the water industry?
If you find it tricky, complain to John.
Benjamin Sparrow: I would define the water industry as a group of highly committed individuals who give a lot of extra sweat to try to do something positive for people on the planet. It’s easier to make money elsewhere.
Antoine Walter: And finally, will you have someone to recommend me that I should definitely invite on that same microphone?
Benjamin Sparrow: Joe Lowry, he’s not in the water industry, but he’s a lithium expert and there’s a lot of open.
Antoine Walter: Well, Benjamin it’s been a pleasure, really. Thanks a lot for getting me into all of that. If people want to follow up with you, where shall I redirect them to the.
Benjamin Sparrow: Our website, Saltworks technologies.com or Saltworks tech.com, or they can also email us at projects at Saltworks tech dot.
Antoine Walter: So as usually the links are in the description. So if you’re listening to this right now, have a look at the episode notes, you’ll find all the links. I’m not sure I would advise your website because that’s how I ended up spending. Howard is reading pages, blogs watching videos. I mean, it’s a treasure of resources.
So I’m joking when I say not recommended because it’s really, it’s a well-thought website, but be prepared. You might be hooked.
Benjamin Sparrow: Thank you. We do know it’s dense and thank you very much for having me on and for all you do, it’s wonderful that you’re out there representing the water industry and trying to tie us together and doing your part. So thank you so.
Antoine Walter: Well, thanks for that. And I think we will have that sequel at some point, maybe the day your self development comes out of the get rage.
Benjamin Sparrow: Ah, I’ll keep that in mind. Maybe I could be, this could be the first release.