Mangrove Lithium started as a Water Technology play, yet it rapidly became evident that Lithium refining was an even stronger product market fit! Mangrove’s clever pivot was rapidly rewarded with a powerful business angel: Breakthrough Energy Ventures. What’s so sexy about electrochemical lithium refining that it attracted Bill Gates? Let’s explore:
with 🎙️ Saad Dara – CEO and Founder of Mangrove Lithium
💧 Mangrove Lithium produces battery-grade lithium hydroxide or carbonate from a wide array of raw sources
Full Video – Mangrove, the Lithium Jewel in Bill Gates’ Crown
Teaser – Trust the Protons!
What we covered:
🔄 How Mangrove Lithium, initially focusing on water treatment and desalination, found the ideal product market fit within the lithium industry.
🌏 What Vancouver’s beauty and Karachi’s fast-paced life mean to Saad Dara, the founder of Mangrove Lithium, and how these contrasting worlds shaped his view.
💡 Why Mangrove shifted its name from Water to Lithium, emphasizing its unique approach, not in extraction but in transformation and recycling within the lithium industry.
♻️ How the circularity of chemicals, environmental benefits, and potential for zero-emission processes play a crucial role in Mangrove’s approach to lithium conversion.
🌀 How Saad Dara spun the company out in 2017, completing his PhD in 2020, and is on the path to commercialization, aiming to co-locate and operate systems with lithium production companies.
🧩 Why the company moved from being lithium “agnostic” to “feedstock flexible,” focusing on hard rock and brine sources and utilizing electrochemical processes to reduce impurities and costs.
🚀 What the simplicity and flexibility of their operations sets them apart, with the ability to change feedstock and product quickly, offering more choices in a volatile lithium market.
🛠️ How their secret sauce lies not in membranes but in the cathode, providing unique value in energy consumption and purity, a major differentiator in the industry.
🔄 Why their approach appeals to both small and large producers, offering a standardized, modular system that fits various scales, potentially serving as a cooperative refining platform.
🌏 What makes them stand out in the global market is the possibility of bringing lithium refining to regions like North America and Europe, potentially altering the current China-dominated landscape.
🔋 How their technology could redefine the lithium market by being a perfect fit for cooperative refining, an innovative model that could support smaller players as they grow.
📐 How modularity in plant design allows flexibility, optimizing both CAPEX and OPEX, from 3000 to 15,000 tons per year, and the thoughtful combination of modules based on needs.
🤝 Why taking a holistic and consultative approach to the supply chain, working side by side with partners, leads to a more successful and optimized process.
🌋 What differentiates the company’s electrochemical approach from other market players like Vulcan, and why their system is simpler and safer to operate.
📈 How focusing on demonstrating a 3000 tons per year system can remove market skepticism, and why operating at a commercially relevant scale and time period is crucial.
💡 Why strong backing by BMW iVentures and Breakthrough Energy Ventures highlights confidence and credibility in the company’s innovative approach – and how Bill Gates is cool (ok, I’m the one adding this)
🤖 What makes Mangrove’s “boxes” unique and how they are working to prove their efficiency and effectiveness in real-world applications.
🎤 How the conversation unveils the company’s vision, backing, synergies, and future plans, providing a multi-dimensional insight into the world of lithium processing and innovation.
🏢 How Lithium Valley emerged I coin a term for Vancouver’s status as the lithium company capital, with a mystery Saad chalks up to community development.
🤝 What makes competitors collaborators: Saad discusses the complimentary fit between Saltworks and Mangrove Lithium, shedding a competitive light on the cooperative spirit of the industry.
🧠 Why to produce lithium chloride: I get an expert’s advice on my potential venture into lithium refining, and Saad highlights the practicality of sticking with the naturally occurring form of lithium.
📈 How to get started with Mangrove Lithium: Saad outlines a fascinating 18-to-30-month process of converting lithium chloride to hydroxide, from lab testing to deployment.
🎤 What makes the flexible model appealing: Saad explains Mangrove’s customizable models for providing technology or production services, reflecting the company’s adaptability in the growing lithium industry.
♻️ Why all lithium sources are vital: Saad provides insight into the future of lithium, emphasizing the importance of all sources while forecasting a trend towards recycled lithium in a circular economy.
🎙️ What wraps up an engaging exploration: A friendly closure invites Saad back for more insights, teasing future dialogues and leaving the listeners craving more from the podcast.
🔥 … and of course, we concluded with the 𝙧𝙖𝙥𝙞𝙙 𝙛𝙞𝙧𝙚 𝙦𝙪𝙚𝙨𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣𝙨 🔥
🔗 Come say hi to Saad on LinkedIn
🔗 Check Mangrove Lithium’s website
is on Linkedin ➡️
Table of contents
Editorial: Can Mangrove be a Game-Changer for the Lithium Triangle?
The decarbonization of our World oftentimes resembles a set of Russian Dolls. First, we needed electric cars, so the manufacturers started shifting their internal combustion lines to EV ones. Then, batteries were on the critical path, so the World frantically built Gigafactories. As a result, Lithium became the bottleneck, and over the next decade, we’ll try to catch up. But in doing so, we may well bump into the next problem: missing chemicals.
Don’t roll your eyes too fast: I do know that Soda Ash, for instance, is pretty commonplace and shouldn’t be an issue. Except if you are in the middle of the high Andes, and especially on the Argentinan side, where dozens of junior lithium companies are currently cutting their teeth.
If you don’t have enough Soda Ash, you can’t refine your Lithium Chloride to Carbonate, and why is that a problem, well, that means you have to truck large volumes of concentrated brines away, and reach a place where chemicals are available. Not a big deal? Well, except if you compound in the absence of paved roads around most of the Salars that will enter into production in the next years, or simply the fact that bringing a truck up to an altitude of over 4’000 meters is not that easy.
While I was up in Olaroz, Cachi, and Jama, I crossed two different trucks in two different places that had rolled over onto the side of the road. So again, I’d say, not a piece of cake.
But if evaporation ponds are so efficient in the high Andes, it’s, of course, thanks to widely available solar energy. Something energy companies start to leverage by installing solar farms.
So what if it were possible to use that electrical energy right where it’s produced, to refine the concentrated brines that evaporation ponds output into battery-grade carbonate or hydroxide?
Well, some companies have started to explore that electrochemical road, and you would have guessed, that’s where Mangrove Lithium is focusing.
Their technology was born as a water treatment and desalination play, yet the ideal product-market fit seems to rather be in the lithium industry – once again, a proof of the high porosity between those two worlds.
Let me avoid spoiling you all of my conversation with Saad Dara, but what I can already tell you is that we had good fun recording, I hope you’ll enjoy it as well, if you do, please remember to take that episode and share it with a friend, a colleague, your boss or your team, wherever you’re listening or watching that, make sure to like and subscribe, and I’ll meet you on the other side!
These are computer-generated, so expect some typos 🙂
Antoine Walter: Hi Saad, welcome to the show.
Saad Dara: Thank you for having me. Looking forward to the conversation.
Antoine Walter: So you’re joining me from a very distant location, which I happen to love. And I’m very curious about whatever Mangrove has been doing and is doing and will be doing in the future. I have tons of questions for you, but that starts with the tradition I have on that microphone, which is to open with the postcard.
What can you tell me about the place you’re at, which I would ignore by now? I’m in
Saad Dara: Vancouver, possibly the most beautiful city on earth. It is my favorite place to live. I really enjoy being here. It is one of the unique cities in the world that has both mountains and seas. But since you’ve been to Vancouver, instead of telling you about Vancouver, where I live now, maybe I’ll tell you.
My original city, which is Karachi, where I’m in Pakistan, so that’s where I grew up. And what can I tell you about that city? It is the complete opposite of Vancouver. It is incredibly fast paced, very densely populated. I think it’s over 20 million people now. That’s really where I come from. I’ll give you a little postcard, uh, from…
somewhere else that you probably haven’t been yet.
Antoine Walter: I mentioned that I’m curious about your past, which is not that common, I have to say on the podcast. And the reason is I’ve been meeting several lithium company, which happens to have been a water company. And usually they tell me, you know, it’s a soft pivot, or in the case of your neighbors from Saltworks, it’s an acceleration towards lithium, but they still would do water.
And for you, it is really A hard pivot. You used to be called Mangrove Water, and now you’re Mangrove Lithium. So what’s the story
Saad Dara: there? We were called Mangrove Water Technologies. Uh, the technology has remained the same, but the use case, uh, has changed. Uh, so very similar to SoftWorks. They were using those for their The systems in water treatment, but they’re, they’re now being used in lithium.
And that’s just a use case. And that’s the same for us. We were a desalination company. We were looking to create chemicals from saltwater that are wastes. And what we found is that the way the technology works, it had a very good fit with lithium. Essentially the chemicals that we produce were in the form of saltwater.
Sodium hydroxide has a certain value associated with it. But we can make the same chemical, lithium hydroxide, um, in the same way, which has a much, much bigger value associated with it. And you’re doing the same amount of work. And so clearly it was a much stronger product market fit. Where we changed the name, we created an operating name as Mangrove Lithium.
Was you have seen that the direct lithium extraction space has become very, very crowded. There are a lot of companies and what was happening we found is we don’t participate in the extraction part. We don’t work in there. We don’t have a direct lithium extraction technology. We’re completely unique from that, but also, you know, from, from what Softworks does.
And what we found is when we started talking to people about it, they would get confused. They would say, how are you extracting lithium, uh, from what water from oil water? And it’s like, no, that’s not what we’re doing. And so we said, okay, we, we really need to drop the water portion of it and focus on just
Antoine Walter: the lithium side.
You explain this. better product market fit towards lithium. Was it sudden on one project that one light bubble, you know, like in a cartoon would light up on your head and you say, Oh, we need to go to lithium. Or was it a slow transition?
Saad Dara: No, it wasn’t a very immediate one. It was a slow transition. We spun out of the university.
Uh, in Vancouver, University of British Columbia. And this work was, was all the work that I’d done for my PhD. But university technologies are often solutions looking for problems. So we thought we were treating a problem. Then when we started looking at the market, we said, okay, one application, there are a lot of limitations.
Can we look elsewhere? And so I’ve looked at steel manufacturing, semiconductors. I looked at other things and then eventually, okay, well, lithium is an expanding market. It’s rapidly growing the fundamentals that EV projections. We’re looking at, we just didn’t believe those fundamentals were in place because not enough lithium was coming on the market.
And so we said, okay, there’s an application for the technology here. But originally we went there with the intention of making chemicals because they use a lot of chemicals within the lithium sector that you can make from salt waters. And so we went to speak to them about this. And one of the companies said, Actually, that’s, that’s really interesting, but can you do this with lithium instead?
And I said, yeah, absolutely we can. That kind of snowballed in 2018, 19 to like, okay, this is what the market is. And this is what the application looks like. And this is what we’re doing. The interesting thing is that that same company, you know, we are now, and we’re working with them on the lithium side, but they’ve kind of gone back full circle and said, Hey, can you also do chemicals from wastewater?
And so it’s funny how some of those things sometimes. change. That’s kind of the history. I don’t call it a pivot. I call it a different use case. Yeah, it’s interesting how that happened over time.
Antoine Walter: If I’m right, the circularity element of the chemicals you can recycle within your technology, that’s still a feature of your product today, right?
Saad Dara: Yes. We focus on converting lithium chloride and lithium sulfate to lithium hydroxide or lithium carbonate. So we can work with any of the feedstocks and we do that. Conversely, one of the most used chemicals within the lithium sector, whether that’s special recycling, hard rock, or brines is sodium hydroxide, sodium carbonate, sulfuric acid.
And those are chemicals that we can produce. Often the ingredients that are needed to make those are available on the site. One of the byproducts of a spodumene operation is sodium sulfate, which can be split back into sodium hydroxide sulfuric with our, with our system. Now, if you’re at the Atacama, you do have a lot of sodium fluoride.
that you’re producing from the salt flats that you can also use to produce those chemicals. Where I think there’s a really interesting side benefit of this is if you consider brines and you consider sodium carbonate, soda ash that’s often used, that’s a mineralized form of carbon dioxide. It’s a naturally occurring rock that is used.
So when you use it, it goes into the battery manufacturing process, you end up emitting the carbon dioxide. If you do it this way, where you kind of produce it from materials that are kind of waste, and you use CO2 that’s in the atmosphere, then the net is zero. I think that’s an interesting element of this process that we think will have some benefits from an environmental perspective.
There’s a circularity element, uh, in different ways. It can be on the lithium itself, it can be on the battery recycling, it can be on the reagents, um, it can be on, you know, potentially even, as I just mentioned, on
Antoine Walter: CO2. There’s a lot to unpack, but on the CO2 element, it’s something I discussed with one of your other neighbors, actually with Standard Lithium, which is running some pilots of carbon capture and also turning it into reactive for the Eldorado project.
But where I’d like to take it from, from there is to, to understand. where you are in your path as, as a company, you filled in your PhD in 2020. And if I recall, right from the homework I did preparing for that conversation, you entered into the university with the deal that you would spin off the technology.
So it was well thought through that you would spin off the company, and now you’re on the path to commercialization, which if I refer to another interview gave, she’ll be in 18 months from now. So can you just. Give me a short understanding of that, that timeframe.
Saad Dara: Yeah, absolutely. So I spun out the company in 2017, but it’s actually often this year, 10 years to when the idea was first formed and when I was first starting my PhD at that time, you know, it was very clear to me what I wanted to do in my career, that I didn’t want to become an academic.
And so I’d really structured my PhD to be able to spin out a company by the end of my PhD, to bring it to a point where technologically, the technical value of that has been crossed, and then you’re looking for investment. That’s kind of the timeline in the past, we finished my PhD in 2020, all the stuff that’s in my PhD, it was.
finished in 2017. Actually, if it wasn’t for COVID, I might not have ever completed writing that thing, but you know, when you’re stuck at home for six months, you’re like, okay, well, maybe I’ll write some stuff. Um, so yeah. Uh, so, and then in terms of commercialization, where are we going? We were working with companies to Co locate and operate the systems.
We’re close to a point where we will enter into detailed design for specific sites and start working towards deploying those systems. And the idea there is that this is actually going to a customer site. And initially we had thought that we would do a potentially an independent facility, but I think it works much better to be able to co locate with, with certain companies and operate with them.
Now, I won’t talk about who those are, uh, but they are… I was going to ask. Well, it will become public sooner or
Antoine Walter: later. So you will be co locating with a company in the aim that they would be producing lithium up to a certain point and then you take it from that chloride or sulfate and you take it to the battery grade.
Is it possible for you to share at least what’s the lithium extraction route? Because you’re lithium agnostic. Could be coming from clay, could be coming from battery recycling, from DLE, from spodumene. So what would be your, your first source, if that’s something
Saad Dara: you’re allowed to use? So, so first thing I’ve been told by our PR firm that I can’t use the word agnostic anymore.
So I have to say we are feedstock flexible. So we’re flexible on where the lithium comes from. The extraction process, the use cases that we’ve been looking at, it’s not DLE. Uh, it is conventional. So in one case, uh, it is hard rock. Uh, and another case it’s brine. As I mentioned earlier, we don’t really get involved in the extraction portion.
The hard rock won’t comment on where those hard rocks are coming from, but essentially they’re making a lithium sulfate. This is a brine as well, where they’re producing a lithium chloride, um, to a pretty good quality and then we convert that into lithium hydroxide. And then on the back end, you know, crystallizer is used to produce the powdered product.
So I think this also kind of relates probably to, you know, how we differentiate and what we really focus on is the conversion aspect and then other parts of the supply chain and other process units. We partner with companies
Antoine Walter: on those. So for this specific step, you mentioned that you’re differentiated actually.
At least the panel of guests on that microphone I had, you’re very differentiated because you’re the first to enforce that technology, which we’ve discussed with other ones, but you’re the first to really do it. You are leveraging electrochemical processes for the layman, for the stupid, which in that place is clearly me.
How does that work?
Saad Dara: Sure. Not for the stupid, right? It’s just an area that I’ve focused on. So I know a little bit. More about it. But electrochemical processes are in essence using electricity to do the same thing that chemicals would and that can be done in different ways. So a traditional process would use chemicals to provide certain molecules or certain elements to lithium so that you can make lithium hydroxide or lithium carbonate.
If you consider a very simple chemical system. You have lithium chloride, that’s the form you need to convert it into lithium hydroxide. You add very basic sodium hydroxide or calcium hydroxide, it reacts and makes lithium hydroxide, and that’s what you get out. The challenge with that kind of process is that to achieve battery grade, you must have very clean sodium hydroxide or chemicals, because if you don’t have those, then you’re introducing impurities into the system, and often the chemicals themselves are impurities.
When you do it electrochemically, what you essentially do is you use electrons which generate the chemical that you need without introducing the impurities. The background of this technology I think is essentially batteries, it’s fuel cells, and it takes a lot of concepts of the same things. It’s very, very simple chemistry in itself.
If you’ve taken high school chemistry, you’ll understand it. It’s not really rocket science. There’s obviously nuances that we have to apply on how you make this work commercially. But the basic chemistry is very simple, that you, you have a voltage, uh, and when you apply that voltage, you generate these chemicals.
And the easiest ones to generate are, you know, protons, uh, hydrogen ions, uh, and then hydroxide ions. which is the opposite of a proton. The two of them together make water. That’s what we really focus on, and that’s how the process works. We use membranes to separate the chemicals, and then we build in uniqueness on how you control energy consumption, how you have flexibility on the system.
What components are used, all of those operating
Antoine Walter: parameters. We had several discussions on that microphone about fuel cells, microbial fuel cell, electrolysis fuel cells. If I try to pin it down to very one single element, usually the devil lies in the membrane. Do you have a special trick
Saad Dara: here? We use membranes.
But where our key secret sauce is not in the membranes. It’s actually on the cathode. Okay. We actually use a very similar cathode that’s used in fuel cells to generate the hydroxide ions and some of our IP, not all of it is related specifically to that, and that’s where our secret sauce is that allows us to have the lowest energy consumption.
Antoine Walter: me try to get, if I understand your value proposition right, from what I got so far. I would see two key arguments. Number one is you’re not blocked with chemicals, which might be impure or not of the right level of purity in order to get the battery grade, which is a very demanding grade. And the second is you’re lower in energy consumption.
Do I get it right? Or do you have additional stuff, which would be unique setting points?
Saad Dara: Two of those things are absolutely correct energy consumption, but also the logistics of those chemicals, the cost of those chemicals can be quite a bit driver. And so, so we do see even at, or assuming, like, 8 cents a kilowatt hour for energy consumption, we know we will be more economic.
The electricity price can be quite a bit higher for us to be those prices. There’s obviously cost element, but the main drivers are purity. The main drivers are simplicity and flexibility of the operations. If you’re looking at a conventional chemical phase separation type process, there’s. It’s very inflexible.
Once you make a 20, 000 tons for your plant that’s going to make lithium carbonate, it’s only going to make lithium carbonate and it’s only going to make it from lithium chloride. It’s not flexible to can you change the feedstock? Can you change the product? And in a market where people still don’t know, is it going to be lithium carbonate that’s going to dominate or is it going to be lithium hydroxide that’s going to dominate that inflexibility is Quite difficult for them to plan with from our perspective.
What we do offer as a unique selling point is that you can change your feed stock through our system very quickly. What I mean by very quickly is in the week. So you can plan accordingly and you can change the product coming out with minor changes to the system. And so that flexibility of approach, being able to participate in both the carbonate and hydroxide market with a very simple, flexible system that’s safe to operate, doesn’t make any hazardous products, and doesn’t have any hazardous chemicals being used in it, is quite important.
Antoine Walter: you can turn around the lithium. Input chloride or sulfate, which is coming into your plants in just a matter of weeks. Does that mean that your product is pretty standard and off the shelf, or do you still have to tailor it a bit to every kind of
Saad Dara: application? It can be quite standard. Where I think we see the biggest changes usually are in size.
We have customers and companies that we speak to their production is maybe only 5, 000 tons per year. Then there’s the big majors. Those guys are looking at 50, 60, 000 tons a year. How you target the products for those specific scales is, is important. But in terms of the core mangrove technology, it’s quite standardized.
It’s quite a modular system. Now, of course, when you look to build a plant, that’s not just the core electrochemical cell. We need to put in the infrastructure for water, for electricity, for those things change. And that’s where a lot of the engineering work comes
Antoine Walter: in. I had a conversation within this series with, I think it was Christopher Brown from Helisex who mentioned that it might be interesting to have kind of a cooperative refining where small players could come and refine their stuff, maybe in batches.
maybe in the first step of their process before they reach the size where they anyway is producing 20, 000 tons per year, at which stage they can afford to have their own refining. Would your technology here be the perfect
Saad Dara: fit? I would like to think so. I think we, we definitely see that flexibility and there is a pathway for mangrove where, especially if you consider that North America and Europe have no refining operations today, all of the refining for lithium is done than in China.
If you’re really looking From the perspective of the number of small players that are going to be coming up over the next decade, even big companies, you know, they’re producing three to 5, 000 tons initially before they ramp up, there might be quite a good fit there to say, okay, you, you could potentially enter into feedstock type agreements.
Uh, they send it and you send back the hydroxide to them, or even you partner with them and sell the different hydroxide. That might actually be quite an interesting model
Antoine Walter: as well. You mentioned the modularity of your system. What would be the smaller size at which. It would be economical and up to which size can one single module go before you have to duplicate and add several of them?
Saad Dara: question. From, uh, the way we look at it, we, we believe we will have two plants. The design work for 3000 tons per year has already been completed. We think in terms of being very OPEX and CAPEX, we think 3000 is kind of the right scale. And then after that. We plan on doing 15,000. The view that the company has is that if you’re looking for a 10,000 tons for your plant, you know, either by the 15 or by three of the threes, but if you’re looking for a 30 or 45,000 tons, it would be, um, unreasonable to scale 10 or 15 of those.
You rather go to, uh, two fifteens and, you know, you build it from there. But if you have a six or 7,000 tons for your plant, then you know, just buy, get the two threes and, and do it that way. That’s really looking to optimize. Uh, both CapEx of the systems, uh, and also looking to think about how modularity happens.
And now really, you know, 15, 000 tons for your systems, the, the electrochemical cells themselves, the, the skids around those, the support infrastructure, those can be modular. But where you get into a challenge with You know, 15, 000 tons per year type systems are who need quite a bit of infrastructure for all the water and handling of the liquid storage.
And so this becomes a big, bigger facility that you’re targeting. Why
Antoine Walter: do you care? Why do you look at the peripherals? You could also be just supplying the technology and say, Hey, there are APCs in that market. They can deal with that. You are
Saad Dara: correct. But why we care is we have a very holistic view of the supply chain.
Cradle to grave, whatever you want to call it from end to end, we can obviously focus on saying like this portion works really good for us outside of that. You got to change, but we don’t believe that that’s the right approach. If you’re looking at the whole picture, you look at the whole picture from, you know, both an engineering perspective, from a CapEx and OpEx perspective, the best chance of success is working with people and saying, this might not be optimized for us, but it will be better for you.
And so together as a whole, we are better. That’s the approach we take. So that’s why we care. We look to work in a consultative approach with the companies that we work with. And oftentimes, what would be really optimized for our system is not optimized for them. So we look to say, okay, we will take a little bit of a hit there, but overall in the dollars per ton of the lithium hydroxide that’s going to come out on the back end, that will be better.
We don’t. Sit across the table from them. We sit at the table with them and say, this is how we should design. That’s how I feel. We have the best chance of success. And at least that’s the philosophy that I have. Those
Antoine Walter: are very clear perks of your technology and your approach. Now, let me look at the dark side.
I had Vulcan on the microphone and we discussed a bit all they do from DLE to refining and they. Intends to go down an electrochemical route. I can’t tell you if it’s the same route or a similar route to you. It’s probably not the same because as their DLE and you mentioned that the two products you’re working on are hard rock and brine, it might not be Vulcan.
See, I can eliminate them one by one, but. I just stumbled upon some analysts looking at Vulkan and saying, Oh, they’re going down a refining or converting route, which nobody else does. That’s a risk. I’m not sure I shall invest. So is it a concern you’ve already heard yourself? And to which extent is it a legit concern?
And what would be your counter argument?
Saad Dara: Vulcan is a very interesting case, right? As far as I know, it is a geothermal type operation, then you have to pre treat the brine, and you have to get the brine from the geothermal, and then you have additional potentially processed risk. So I can’t speak to analysts, one of them, this is going to sound Sounds silly, but one of my personal rules is I don’t participate in stocks or participate in those kind of investments.
I can’t comment on that, but what I can say is from what Vulcan is trying to do, what they’re using is chloralkali, conventional chloralkali, which is different to what we do. The downside there is that they do generate chlorine and they do generate hydrogen. We don’t have those, so our system is quite a bit simpler and safer to operate.
Chloralkali has been around for a while. If they can produce the lithium, I think they have a relatively good chance of success. I’m not sure on what the restraction technology is going to be and how it’s going to be successful. I’m not sure of the economics, given German electricity prices potentially.
I’m not sure on the permitting, uh, in, in where they are. But electrochemistry, if you do things correctly, is it’s actually quite easy to do. I mean, batteries, EVs, you know, they’re all based on electrochemistry. Everybody carries them in their pocket and their cell phones that’s happening. So there is a risk associated with, there is skepticism in the market.
And this is where our focus on. Why we think the one or three thousand tons per year system needs to be demonstrated first is we think that removes that risk and that’s really our focus. All that to say potentially it might be if you have risk on risk where you have geothermal plus potentially a new technology that might be that from analysts perspective might be seen that way.
From our perspective we see electrochemistry having quite a strong fit for lithium. The other aspect of this is. When lithium prices are high, it’s like when oil and gas prices are high. Nobody wants to invest in new ways. They want to target as much production as possible, as quickly as possible with the lowest amount of risk.
Conversely, when prices are low, nobody wants to take any risk and innovate or anything because prices are low. We don’t have any money. So how do you innovate? I think there are some criticisms there that may be valid, but I feel quite confident in what we’re doing with the customers that we’re working with.
Antoine Walter: You mentioned criticism and skepticism. I would say from looking at your company, there’s a very clear counter argument to that, which is you’re very strongly backed. Not exactly by no names. Breakthrough Energy Ventures has been leading your first investment round. Then they were with. BMW iVentures in your second rounds.
And if I counted right over all the rounds, you’ve raised a little bit over 50 million as that’s about
Saad Dara: right. You double counted and we raised about 25 million. We did an A round that was led by. Breakthrough energy and BDC capital. And then shortly after we did a second close off an A round. It’s not a full B round.
So the second close, because we really liked the BMW iVentures guys. Then we did a second close with BMW iVentures and Breakthrough. Altogether, we raised just over 25. If you take into account the grants that we’ve done, maybe closer to 30. In terms of total investment, it’s probably around the
Antoine Walter: 20 ish mark.
You do realize that if you had stayed in water. Those numbers would make you a superstar. Well, that’s
Saad Dara: why we didn’t stay in water, right? Because I think it would
Antoine Walter: not be possible. Jokes aside. You’re backed by Breakthrough Energy Ventures, which in the lithium space is also backing Lilac Solutions, which I would see like a good fit as a combination of your two technologies.
Do you have any link? It’s like someone at Breakthrough Energy Ventures saying you should give That means it’s not a correct call or something like that, or how
Saad Dara: does it work if it works wherever we can find synergies within the portfolio companies? I mean, lilac is also backed by bmw iVentures and they were, I think they participated in one of the rounds too.
So we have common investors, so wherever we can find synergies with portfolio companies, that’s always good, but breakthrough or iVentures, you know, they’re pretty good with. And saying, like, you got to chart your own destinies, uh, and they don’t force you or anything like that. We do speak with Lilac where there’s commonalities, where we think we can help each other.
But I think for both of us, the focus has been, we got to prove our boxes, uh, and then look to the future as well, uh, opportunities at that point. But we do speak to them and we do see a synergy there. Certainly not something where Breakthrough comes in and says, you got to work with them. That that’s
Antoine Walter: not the case.
When you say prove your boxes, if you succeed on the two projects you alluded to, does that prove your box or do you have a bit more, what’s the magical threshold at which people would say, Oh, okay, mangrove, they’re legit.
Saad Dara: There is a threshold that the market needs to see and there’s a threshold that I need to see.
And when I say I need to see what I mean is Mangrove as a company can look at it and say this works. We believe even today what we’re doing, we have reached that threshold in the electrochemical cells that we have. We’re operating those at a commercial scale. How we increase from there is replication.
What the market needs to see is a little bit bigger. Our goal for the next little bit Is we are operating with a certain number of cells in a stack is to demonstrate one full stack. We got one full stack. It’s not that much bigger. The cells are exactly the same. There’s just more off them. What that would prove is that when you think about a 3000 or 15, 000 tons per year.
you’re using the same stack. So it’s just piping. It’s just more heat management. It’s just more electrical. It’s all engineering. It’s not reliability of the electrochemical cells or the stack or durability assumptions or anything like that. Those are what we’re looking to prove right now. The advantage that we have is we don’t need multi year lifetimes on our components.
We, we only need them to be in the months range. And so we can do that relatively quickly. And from our perspective, that’s really the key things that need to be done. Definitely for us internally, we, we are convinced what the market needs to be convinced about and the customers need to be convinced about.
They need to see it operating for a commercially relevant scale and commercially relevant time period. And that’s what we’re working on and proving over this next
Antoine Walter: stage. I have a riddle, which I’m trying to solve for a while now. You’re sitting in the Lithium Valley. I just. Made up the term to mimic the Silicon Valley, but whenever I’m digging up a project, wherever in the world, like really, wherever I was looking at a project in Brazil last week, the company was headquartered in Vancouver.
Every time I dig up a new company, it’s headquartered in Vancouver. Why do all lithium companies? Sit in Vancouver
Saad Dara: maybe because it’s the most beautiful city to be. But, uh, you know, I, I, I, I really don’t know, to be honest. It’s quite plausible, just like immigrant groups go to one specific part of a city or go to a specific city, and then you develop that community there.
It might just be to do with that. If you have one or two that are headquartered, then others say, well, if they’re headquartered there, it’s been such a big boom in, in the lithium sector. There are a lot of companies are looking at it and then they say, okay, well, where should we be headquartered? Mining in general is quite active in Vancouver and headquarters being here.
There might be something to do with people, uh, that work in those
Antoine Walter: sectors. On a more serious note, does that mean that you’re leveraging that neighborhood to go and visit the same day, because they’re on the same streets, Lithium Americas and Standard Lithium and Lithium South and whoever else is on that street, 20 companies.
Does that. Change a bit your, your
Saad Dara: approach. Not so much. You know, the funny thing is that, uh, even though there are folks here, Lithium America’s Rene LeBlanc, uh, who’s a CTO, he’s based in Atlanta. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him in Vancouver. Standard Lithium, uh, folk, one of them is, uh, lives close to where I live.
Uh, but you know, I think that people that we mostly interact with that are in Arkansas, it’s actually quite distributed in itself. Headquarters are here, but the actual operations aren’t. And the people that you interact with
Antoine Walter: tend to be elsewhere. Let me drill down that hole of the neighborhood in Vancouver, because there’s an elephant in the room.
I’ve started that lithium season by interviewing. Ben Sparrow from Saltworks. It was its second take on, on, on the podcast. And I was super happy to be in Vancouver with him having that interview. I do believe you might be competitors. Is that right?
Saad Dara: No, I don’t see them as competitors. We see each other as complimentary fits.
So Ben and Saltworks, where they focus is just after what we do. They typically from our processes and our products, we get out lithium hydroxide. That’s. It’s close to saturation limit and where they focus is on actually producing the powdered crystals that are required. Our output tends to be their input.
And so there’s quite a good complimentary fit and on a number of projects that we have looked at, we’ve seen Saltworks is active there and we don’t see each other as, I can’t speak for Ben. I certainly don’t see Saltworks as a competitor. We do what we do. I think we’re very complimentary fits. in the same kind of refining space, but we, as I mentioned, really focus on the conversion aspect.
And then we look to work with companies like Saltworks on the crystallization portion of
Antoine Walter: it. That’s even a better story then, because I started this lithium deep dive because just in my background, I happen to have a brine resource, which is lithium rich. And I was looking to understand if I could do anything with that.
And I was looking to several places and everybody told me it makes about sense, not stop your podcast and stop everything because you will become a billionaire. But still, it’s interesting. One of my former guests on that microphone, Chris Wires from Evolve, was kind enough to look how they could do this direct lithium extraction out of that.
Which means I now have an entire stack up to lithium. Chloride or sulfate up to me to decide. So now I’m coming to you first. What would you advise me sh? Should I go to sulfate or chloride? Or do you say, not agnostic, but
Saad Dara: flexible? What would I advise you? It’s best to go to whatever form the lithium exists in.
Typically, if you’re looking at a brine, it probably exists as a chloride, as it’s best to stay in that form. Sulfate really comes from either battery recycling or hard rock processing, and that’s the leaching process. You leach it with sulfuric acid. If it’s a brine type acid, just stay in
Antoine Walter: chloride. So I will stay in chloride, and now I would need to go from that chloride to hydroxide, and that’s where I would hire a mangrove lithium to do that.
First, what do you need from… Me to do that second, what needs to happen in terms of, I don’t know, lab testing, piloting’s, uh, first steps in the field and third, what would be your expected delivery
Saad Dara: time? You come to us and you say, Hey, I have some lithium chloride. First thing we do is we engage our engineering team.
They say, can you send me a list of all the things that are in your chloride? And so we look at that and we said, this is what we need to do. This is what we need to remove certain impurities. And then after that, we will convert it to lithium hydroxide this way. Then we have a pilot plant here. We also have lab facilities in Vancouver, and we asked you to send your samples here.
That is a three month process where we prove the technology to you. Now, of course, if you’ve already convinced that this can work with it, and you know, we’ve seen from others. Similar things in terms of your composition, um, then we can say, okay, we can skip this. We know exactly where to go and then we do the lab test.
We do the pilot test if that’s required and then we draft up a commercial agreement of what deployment would look like. So that would be timeline. When do you need the plant by how big do you need the plant to be? What do you want us to take in our scope? Do you want us to do? The engineering for the building.
Do you have a building? Do you have the electrical? Do you have the water? So we sit down with you, develop the project, kind of define on a term sheet level what our expectations are, what our responsibilities are, what your responsibilities are. And then we sign on to that document and we go from there.
Typical project can, once we are into a commercial agreement stage to say, design and build and deploy can be anywhere between 18 months to 30 months, depending on the scale and depending on the size of the project, certainly it can be smaller. If they’re doing a very small pilot plan, we can do that quicker, but.
If you’re looking at anything that’s within the, at this point, 30 ton per year range, then we’re probably looking at 18 month process to deploy the
Antoine Walter: system for you. We will have some time offline to discuss the commercial terms, but for me to understand here, what do you sell? Do you sell 3000 tons of lithium hydroxide refined to a certain level, or do you sell me the equipment which under the conditions we discussed together and engineered together will allow me to do that?
In other terms, where’s your liability and your warranty in what you’re selling? We do both.
Saad Dara: We provide the technology. We can work with you on the model, whether you Purchase it outright. You own it. We can then go from there to say, okay, the rest of it is going to be licensing of the technology on a production.
So we align our interests with yours. So the more you can produce from it, the better for us and the better for you. And so we look to align that. But that can be done in either a pure licensing type model, or it can be done in O and M plus licensing. So what that means is We can come to your site, put a fence around our box.
You provide the feedstock. We send the product back to you and we operate it for you as well. Those are the two, two models that we do. And right now we’re looking at 3000 tons per year type scale. We are going to be soon, uh, developing, starting work on a 15, 000. The 15, 000 type plants would be licensed.
Um, and so we would build a plant for you, act as your EPC for this portion. Um, warrant the technology, operate it, make sure that you have enough production Commit to the production that we’re doing, uh, and then how much we get paid is linked to how much production we do that really is intended to align interests and say, if our system doesn’t work or we can only get a certain amount that we promised, then that’s not fair to you.
And so we. We work on that as well together. I appreciate
Antoine Walter: as your future customer. I have the last question for you in this deep dive, if I’m producing, I need to understand my competitive environment. You’ve said you’re not agnostic anymore for PR reasons, you’re flexible still. So I guess you, you have kind of a horse in each race, but if you have to look at the trends, what would be.
The source of lithium, which has the best perspectives in the future. Is it battery recycling? Is it clay? Is it hard rock? Is it brine? Is it direct lithium extraction from oil fields? What
Saad Dara: is it? The biggest reserves of lithium are brines. I think they, they will play a very important role. Fortunately, there is so much demand that fortunately all of them will be required.
Uh, so I don’t see that as being which one will dominate and we will need all of them. But what I think will happen, uh, is that in about. 10 years, uh, you will get batteries back, then those batteries will be recycled, and then you’ll end up with a fresh lithium, uh, and a recycled lithium, and that recycled lithium will become about, you know, half of the supply, but that will continue to be the case.
The question that we, we have is how comfortable companies are going to get around using recycled lithium to make batteries and cathode active materials, whether. In 10 years, they’ll be at a point where they’re comfortable with that and not with using virgin recycled materials from a chemical point of view, from a chemical engineer, electrochemist point of view, which is what I am.
Lithium is lithium. It doesn’t matter where it comes from. But I think, you know, the market and the battery manufacturers are still in that nascent stage where they need to get comfortable with that and qualify it and say that this will last. Presumably at some point in the future, we will be at a point where all of our materials are recycled.
There is only a limited supply of these metals. It should be sufficient to meet all of our demands, but production needs to come online. Then we get into a circular economy, where at least we have the opportunity to do so, unlike with oil and gas or with
Antoine Walter: fossil fuels. Saad, I would have many more questions for you.
So I guess I will have to have you back at some point on that microphone. It’s been a really interesting exploration of mangrove, and thanks a lot for that. If that’s fun for you, I would round it off with some rapid fire
Saad Dara: questions. Uh, sounds good. Uh, you know, first I want to say I would absolutely love to be back.
Very, very much enjoyed talking. So happy to answer questions another time too. Consider it
Antoine Walter: an open invitation whenever you want.
Rapid Fire Questions
In that section, I try to keep the question short. You have to try to keep the answers short, but you’ll see that the one digressing is always me, but I try to behave. My first one is what’s the most exciting project you’ve been working on and why?
Saad Dara: We are working on a flexible project. So it’s a flex facility and it’s very exciting to us because it will prove.
that the technology can take in any feedstock and produce any product. And that future proofing for the lithium market is very exciting to us, because it creates a completely unique system that can, that can work with anything
Antoine Walter: at any time. Can you name one thing that you’ve learned the hard way? I
Saad Dara: wish I could name just one.
You need to qualify conversations very quickly. Getting to a quick no is… It’s better than a long yes, a very long
Antoine Walter: yes. I really
Saad Dara: like that one. And maybe, you know, also related to that is a no is a no today, but that’s not the
Antoine Walter: hard lesson. Is there something you are doing today in your job that you will not be doing in 10
Saad Dara: years?
All of it. I don’t think I’ll be as active technically. My technical portions of my job have already come down quite a bit. If the past is a projection into the future, that will probably be non
Antoine Walter: existent. What is the trend to watch out for in either the water or lithium sector or the intersection of
Saad Dara: both?
The water sector, more focus will be on production of value from water. Water has traditionally been a cost. Creator. So treatment of water is a cost. I’m looking at creating value from it will become more important. Same way as CO2 is becoming value creator. And then in lithium, I think the geopolitical trend will be really key.
So much more independence for North America and Europe from Asian markets and localization of that supply chain. The trend back to bringing manufacturing back to North America, I think, is something that’s going to be key to watch for over the next year.
Antoine Walter: Thanks. If I instantly became your assistant, what’s the number one task or mission you’d delegate to me that would help you in your job?
And I never promised I would do it. I think
Saad Dara: that would be, you know, relationship management is probably the key. Making sure that people… are informed of the, all the communications that are in your head that you think you’re doing, but that they are aware of those. That would be key.
Antoine Walter: Actually communication.
I get you. Final question. Would you have someone to recommend me that I should definitely invite on that microphone as soon as possible? Have you had Moment Energy?
Saad Dara: Nope. I think you should consider them. I really like those guys. They’re also based in Vancouver. Surprise, surprise. Uh, they do second life battery storage.
I think there’ll be a good group of people to speak to and really like
Antoine Walter: that company. Well, thanks a lot for the recommendation. Thanks again for. Everything you shared today, if people want to follow up with you, what’s the best place to redirect them to? They
Saad Dara: can reach us on LinkedIn. We have quite an active LinkedIn page, uh, where we continuously comment on the lithium market and what’s happening.
And we look to provide good guidance on the market. And really from an educational point of view for everybody. We’re also on Twitter or X now. X. I’m not active on any social media, but our website is a great way to get in touch with us and with me as
Antoine Walter: well. If you’re listening to that, the links are in the description with the links to your X, to your LinkedIn and to the website.
So it’s been a pleasure. I stand my point. You have an open invitation whenever you want. I have much more questions for you and thank you
Saad Dara: very much. Thank you so much Antoine. Very much enjoyed this.