Why Water Technologies Matter in Lithium Mining (And Why You Should Buy Now!)

Lithium Mining shall get from 500’000 tons per year to at least 2 if not 3 or 5 million tons by 2030. How will we get there? We’ll need a lot of planets to align… and heavy support from the Water Industry!

Find out more with my entire Lithium deep dive.

with 🎙️ Benjamin Sparrow – CEO and Co-Founder at Saltworks Technologies

💧 Saltworks provides innovative products and solutions for industrial wastewater treatment and desalination.

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Full Video

What we covered:

🎢 The current state of Direct Lithium Extraction (DLE) and its possible technological paths

🤝 How DLE gets paired with Concentrate Refine Convert (CRC) processes and how this takes lithium to battery-grade

4️⃣ The Two main sources of Lithium in the World and their Two Contenders (DLE & Battery Recycling)

📆 The timelines of a lithium mining project and how fast tracks are myths

🏃 How speed to market is going to be a key metric for a new lithium player’s success and how to maximize your chances of success

🇨🇦 How regions with a rich mining history, such as Canada and Australia, will lead the charge in the lithium mining revolution

💧 How water processes being massively used in lithium extraction projects will have consequences on lead times and technology availability in the Water Sector

📈 How lithium mining is an industry where everybody is growing and how there is more money flowing into the sector than companies ready to receive it

🚀 Generation 1 vs 2, Evaluating a Surprise Lithium Project, what’s important for DLE’s Success, Key market players, Growing as a water technology scale-up… 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

(don't) Waste Water Logo

is on Linkedin ➡️

Infographic: Lithium Mining


Teaser 1 – There’s plenty of Money but a few Companies able to receive it in DLE, CRC and Lithium Mining

Teaser 2 – It Takes 3-4 Years to Build a Lithium Mining Project (Myth Busting)

Teaser 3 – Direct Lithium Extraction is not faster to market than Evaporation Ponds

Teaser 4 – Lead Times are Increasing: Get your Lithium Mining technology now, or you might be left out!

Full Transcript:

These are computer-generated, so expect some typos 🙂

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Antoine Walter: Hi Ben. Welcome back to the show!

Benjamin Sparrow: Thank you for having me, Antoine. Very pleased to be here.

Antoine Walter: Actually, I think it’s this first time that I had a guest so closely back after, I mean, we, we discussed. Less than one year ago, and it feels to me like so many things have changed and the thing that maybe changed the most is me, because when we discussed together, I discovered the words of D L e, CRC and lithium extraction.

And since then I had the chance to dive a bit deeper. And it sounded to me like I had the best person on that microphone and I didn’t leverage it. Right. So that’s the reason why I wanted to have you back on that microphone. So thanks all for taking the time. So that’s the very wordy introduction.

There’s one thing I noticed on your website between our two conversations is that last time lithium. Had some space on your website and was one of the topics you were addressing. Now it is really the headline, like you open the Saltworks websites and it really opens with your new refining, lithium refining testing center, your capabilities, everything you do to support that industry.

So is that kind of a marketing soft pivot?

Benjamin Sparrow: Uh, it’s an acceleration of where the market is. So with Saltworks, having started with industrial desalination, concentrating, refining, and crystallizing, hard to treat. Industrial waters that those technologies translate very ov, very well over to lithium refining to concentrate, refine, and convert lithium resources.

And there’s examples of these kind of machines behind both of us.

Antoine Walter: So actually just tell me what, what’s that machine and what’s this one? So that we, we have an.

Benjamin Sparrow: Sure. This is a lithium carbonate reactor. Okay, so you put clean lithium chloride in and battery grade lithium carbonate comes out. There’s some washing and drying that needs to be done, and what’s behind you is a lithium hydroxide crystallizer.

The two primary lithium chemicals that go into batteries are lithium carbonate or lithium hydroxide. ,

Antoine Walter: I’ve seen you recommending to go to lithium carbonate because that’s the most cons, cost competitive today, or the best way to, to get money out of the system today. So is that the main driver of your systems or do you resell both of them?

Benjamin Sparrow: Sure. Um, so lithium carbonate is a shorter hill to climb. Lithium carbonate is a taller mountain to, pardon me? Are we doing repeats? Yeah. As much as you wants. Ken, I’ll turn off the screen too. . So sorry I made a noise. Sometimes I’d muddle at my words, Kate. That’s all.

Antoine Walter: Where do I start? So Liam Carbonate side involves on the both sides of it, but I’ve seen you mentioning that carbonate was maybe the economically the best one you would advise to people right now.

Benjamin Sparrow: Sure. And there’s a fair bit to unpack there. Um, today, based on economics, lithium carbonate is more profitable for the lithium asset. and here’s why. Uh, it’s lower cost for them to reach the battery grade goal, and they get paid a decent price in the market. The incremental value or market price for lithium hydroxide isn’t, is not as high as, uh, to sustain, to provide the profits for lithium hydroxide.

So ultimately lithium carbonates more profitable, but there’s another component. If somebody builds a lithium carbonate plant, they can always bolt a lithium hydroxide plant onto the backend. So by going the carbonate route, your future proof to go with hydroxide. In addition, some EV and automotive manufacturers are installing lithium carbonate to hydroxide conversions at their battery plants in preparation to absorb lithium.

From the marketplace. So we help clients go in both directions. It depends, do you want to climb a hill lithium carbonate, or do you want to climb a mountain? Lithium hydroxide.

Antoine Walter: So that one you said the input is lithium chloride. So that’s what you get when you’re evaporating brine. So does that mean that it is cuttered to these.

South American market so far.

Benjamin Sparrow: So, um, it could, you could use it, but it’s really catered to direct lithium extraction processes. And now in all honesty, this is a brine refined machine. So Brine refined does various things. We have brine refined machines at semiconductor plants that help remove fluoride from wastewater.

We have them on reverse osmosis brine to help remove silicon and scaling ions, but they. Uh, can and do precipitate out and produce lithium carbonate. So it’s a flexible Swiss army knife of a chemical reactor that you can use to do various things. Lithium carbonate production being one of them.

Antoine Walter: So you explained last time how you are really focusing on the crc.

So concentrate, refine, convert, convert. I was forget the last C. Um. and you are bolting that to D L E D L E so far, doesn’t have a commercial scale plant. So you are working with these junior companies or new entrants in the market. , why don’t you want to go also over that hill and go into dle?

Benjamin Sparrow: Oh, uh, there’s a lot of great companies out there already practicing dle, and it’s a very active space.

There’s a lot of sorting out that will be done over the next five years, shall we say. Some will thrive and survive. Um, others will fall by the wayside. We’re purposely DLE agnostic such that our clients have open access to the CRC technology regardless of what DLE is up. Try to maintain commercial flexibility for our clients.


Antoine Walter: so this refining step, will it work as well for concentrated pot domine or is it then a totally

Benjamin Sparrow: different route? It’s a totally different route. Um, for your listeners and viewers that of interest, there’s really three ways to battery grade chemicals. One ispo, domine, or rocks. Right. And um, often the pathway is lithium hydroxide.

You would, the machine that’s behind you is a lithium hydroxide crystallizer. You could use that in a su domine process. The other way is the evaporation ponds in South America, which, um, they concentrate naturally. using the sun and the atmospheric dry air. Uh, and then ultimately they could pop their concentrated lithium chloride into a brine refined lithium carbonate reactor.

But they already have methods of doing it. Or the method that you mentioned, which is dle, where you’re extracting lithium from geological brine in wet climates where you can’t build evaporation ponds. You mentioned

Antoine Walter: three routes. Mm-hmm. , there’s potentially a fourth one, which is recycling lithium from battery plants.

any type of lithium that you, I mean the end of life of a battery or whatever. Is that something you’re looking into as well?

Benjamin Sparrow: Oh, so I’m really glad you mentioned that, uh, because 30% of the lithium that goes into a battery plant can end up being wasted. And the answer is yes. Not only are you looking at it in into it, but two machines very similar to the ones that’s behind you, are currently being started up at a lithium battery recycling plant in the us.

Antoine Walter: Let me give you a bit of behind the scenes here. . I started this lithium investigation and I thought, I want to have really the full spectrum. So I went to Australia, looked at the mines. I I, I discussed with DLE companies, I discussed with evaporation bonds companies. I discussed with battery companies. I discussed with um, consultants in that market and I thought, okay, I already had saltworks on that microphone.

Maybe there’s someone else which can be active on this crc and. I might be stupid. That’s a good possibility, but I didn’t find anybody else than you in that, in that exact spot of crc. So what’s your special sauce? What makes you so unique that. You are the one be

Benjamin Sparrow: all. So we do absolutely do have competitors.

Um, there’s a certain very large and, uh, reputable company out of France. Okay, so the Reds, . Yes. Yeah. And, uh, they equally like us practice industrial desalination. And with that, um, they’re a leader in CRC in lithium. So what’s our special sauce? What sets Saltworks aside? Our plants are highly modularized and highly digitized.

and what we’re finding is that translates into higher lithium yield and recovery. That’s very important and equally shorter timelines to get to plant up and running at site. So rather than stick building a lithium refinery, At a remote site that can be quite expensive, and then having to commission it at a remote site.

All of our plants are modular built here in this factory and pre-commissioning, pre-tested here, and so they’re Lego blocks, adult Lego blocks that go to site and can be placed down and then bolted together. They’re also pre-com commissioned here and highly digitized, so we use advanced levels of automation to reduce.

Needs and also to reduce chemical consumption, increased precision and increase yield.

Antoine Walter: You were kind enough to give me some, some pre-reading before that conversation and something really struck me in what, what you sent me, which is that your timelines are incredibly short. You are advising people to go.

A first test, then a pilots then edema plant and altogether takes one year, one and a half year. Mm-hmm. . And when I look at the DLE projects out there, or even the evaporation pond projects out there, the ones which want to, to go a bit beyond the existing four wants, they all have 10 to 15 years timeline.

So, , what makes you so confident you can be going so much

Benjamin Sparrow: faster. Sure. So, um, to unpack that question, we’re not going necessarily faster than the mines or the permitting process, but it does take us. 12 months from a purchase order to build plants like what’s behind us right now. So that’s about 12 months.

And if somebody wants to pilot and do a Fulsom pilot, you can get that done in three to six months. So that’s where you can get to the 18 months. But to your very good point, there’s a whole pile of other work that needs to be done by others. There’s the permitting. , there’s the brine disposal wells. The building needs to be put in, the equipment needs to be put into the building, uh, needs to be commissioned and what have you.

So, you know, realistically from a go that a company has a permit and they have financing and they point to dirt, they’re probably looking at three to four years anyways, even inclusive of our timelines. They still have to, if there’s, if they’re going dle, they have to figure out their DLE system, procure, install, and commission, their DLE system.

Uh, just to switch topics to evaporation ponds for a second. A lot of people talk about how evaporation ponds take 18 months to get to production, right? And that’s just because of water having to evaporate and concentrate. How long do you think it takes to build a DLE plant? It takes 18 months to two years anyways, so I don’t really see DLE as a faster way to lithium production than evaporation ponds.

Antoine Walter: I have to say, uh, I have to give credit to, to Juri, the host of the Global Lithium Podcast who told me that you have this element of DLE being faster because the second of it starts, it’s producing straight away or almost straight away. . But once an evaporation pond is started anyways, it’s gonna produce the same yield.

It’s just that it has this startup phase, but which is the same then building the dle. So in fact, that’s maybe not the best argument in favor of dle. You’re right. Never and so is Joe. Never. Nevertheless, when you look at at South America right now. So to stay on evaporation ponds, what I got is that they could be producing much more lith.

If they had more water and, and a better extraction efficiency than what they have today, which sounds like. Something calling for a better technology to maybe reuse that water, loop the water, and maybe having a higher extraction yield, which again sounds like something where you could be helping. Am I fully off with

Benjamin Sparrow: that?

No. Um, the key is the extraction yield. There’s, um, If I’m allowed to say misinformation, there’s some misinformation about water utilization and evaporation ponds. And just to focus on that for a second, one needs to think about the quality of water. So they’re pumping up hypers, saline water from underground that cannot be used for agriculture or human consumption.

And it happens to contain lithium. So it’s low quality water, very similar to the, uh, the concept of entropy in thermodynamics and physics. So it’s highly disorder or disordered water. It’s low quality. Um, . Now, in terms of their freshwater consumption, they do not use a lot of freshwater in these evaporation ponds.

They’re literally just counting on the sun to evaporate as much of the water as possible to the atmosphere. In the process of doing so, they’re crystallizing out sodium chloride and potassium chloride, so they’re crystallizing out all of these salts, and herein lies the problem. The process of crystallizing out those salts, they’re losing lithium.

Lithium is bound up in those salt crystal. Equally, they have to add some chemicals, lime to deal with magnesium, and when they precipitate out the magnesium oxide, they’re binding up lithium. So the downside of the evaporation ponds technically really is, is what you hit the nail on there, which is the yield.

Their yield is about 40, 50%. Now with DLE technology, one could increase that yield. You could put dle. Geological brine resource and recover 85 to 90% of the lithium through a DLE system. And then in your downstream CRC, you could recover another 80 odd percent depending on how you configure it. So you up your yield.

It’s not going to be as dramatic as some claim, but you will be able to up your yield with DLE in South America.

Antoine Walter: So is that the first output for dle, or shall we really focus dly on new ways to produce lithium? Because it sounds like a low hanging fruit. You could be. If I’m very car architectural, you could be doubling your yield mm-hmm.

by marrying DLE with evaporation ponds. So why bother looking at other sources? No,

Benjamin Sparrow: you’re, you’re spot on. Um, if DLE is successful, it will one, we will one day see it, at least I’m confident. We will one day see it upstream of evaporation ponds. They’ll use DLE to produce a dilute dirty lithium chloride, and then they’ll use the evaporation pond to concentrate it.

That is a much more elegant. . Uh, however, uh, the evaporation pond companies have been looking at DLE for 20 years. It’s been been around for a long period of time, and they haven’t adopted it yet. And when you talk to them, I’m not sure what they’ve said to you, but when you talk to them, it’s about the water consumption because Generation One DLE does consume a lot of water.

And to your point, they don’t have water. And then also the capital cost hasn’t been as capital cost competitive as building a big. Relatively economic to put ponds in deserts if you have the land, which they tend to have. Which they tend to have. In terms of D’S first market application, um, I think that it’s wisely focused on geological brine in North America and Europe, like what standard lithium’s doing in the Smackover or Vulcan in um, Germany.

And then, uh, soon there’s apparently gonna be some developments in France. As well. So, uh, you cannot, we do not have the technological option to put a pond there. And so I think you’ll see d e grow up there first, become successful, and then start to be installed on the evaporation ponds.

Antoine Walter: You, you shortly mentioned d e Generation One and generation two.

Mm-hmm. , can we define those two generations?

Benjamin Sparrow: Absolutely. So, generation One Daily, which has been around for over 20 years, it’s um, an Illumina based absorb. I think in France you call it aluminum? Yep. Our American France call it aluminum, so it’s an Illumina based absorbent. And the Illumina based absorbent, uh, the lithium containing water flows by it.

So it’s either a powder or a resin lake. Material flows by it, and that absorbent grabs the lithium. . Okay, so that’s fine and into anti, but now you need to release the lithium. The way you do that is you stop flowing the brine past the absorbent. You now flow water past the absorbent. Mm-hmm. , it’s a water elution, so Illumina based water ion, and it works and you can very mildly concentrate the lithium, but more importantly, you reject a whole pile of total dissolved solids and, and salinity.

You’re essentially improving the lithium to TDS ratio, and that’s a key metric. We’ll talk about more lithium to td. , that’s generation one, been around for a while, and there’s some great companies that have really tuned it and improved its efficiency. Generation two is a different fundamental technology.

That’s where you have a titanate or manganese oxide based absorbent. You, again, flow the lithium brine past it and it grabs the lithium, but in order to, and it does a better job at grabbing the lithium, but there’s a catch. In order to elute the lithium from the absorbent, you need to wash it with. . Mm-hmm.

thermodynamics, again, kinetics. So, uh, generation two DLE plants are quote unquote hooked on drugs for many, many years, right? So they have to keep pumping acid into the system. When you pump past it into a system, you lower pH. That means you then have to add base to elevate pH. Again, generation two has a very significant advantage in that it can concentrate.

It can achieve a higher lithium to TDS ratio. It’s a capital cost smaller plant, but the operating costs are higher because you’re constantly having to allude with acid and then adjust with base. Most DLE plants have a chloral Cali plant bolted next to them. In concept to produce the acid and base.

It’ll be continuously used. ,

Antoine Walter: you mentioned generation one, generation two. It’s tempting for me to ask, is there a generation three in the pipeline? There’s

Benjamin Sparrow: a lot of people working on generation three, um, university levels, national lab levels, uh, some startup companies. Uh, we’re watching it closely and it’ll be exciting to see what comes out.

Antoine Walter: So that’s something which I like to understand is why do you watch that closely? Because that happens. I mean, they’re your neighbors, but it’s not in your house. It’s whatever happens before your crc, but it’s in the daily field. You could say whatever they have at the outputs. We ensure that. Manage it. So why do you look into their garden?


Benjamin Sparrow: We want the best for our clients, and now we only look into their garden if we’re invited to do so. Uh, but a lot of people put a lot of information online. They publish academic papers and at our heart, uh, Saltworks Technologies, we are a technology firm and we’re innovators and, and we’re curious.

And so we’re constantly on the lookout to find. Better technologies that will help our customers accomplish their goals, including if they’re not invented here. We’re very proud of our digitized modular plants that we build for our customers today. Uh, but customers do ask us, because of our position in practicing CRC and being downstream with so many DLE technologies, they do ask for our council on DLE systems and, uh, which way their compass should point dle.

Is a bit of a smoky space there. There’s been some big claims made. Um, there’s been a few houses of cards built and, uh, there’ll be some winners in the future. There’ll be some legitimate players, but there’ll also be some that fall by the wayside. And so it’s very confusing for asset owners to navigate that space if they don’t have the technological background around the periodic table elements in water and kinetics and et cetera.

And that’s, that’s what our people do here every day.

Antoine Walter: I remember that from, from our first conversation where you say you, you’re basically moving the elements in the table of elements right and left. So, mm. That seal applies in that focus of, of, of lithium. You just inaugurated your lithium refining center.

Mm-hmm. . So test center, I guess. So what is it that you can do with your new capabilities?

Benjamin Sparrow: Sure. So we have, uh, two. Test pilot plants pilot one, one ton a day. It’s over there. Pilot 10, 10 tons a day, and it’s outside clients ship. D l eent, and we convert it into battery grade, lithium carbonate or battery grade Lithium hydroxide

Antoine Walter: in the 10 tons a day of lithium carbonates.

Oh, I

Benjamin Sparrow: wish 10 tons a day. Of dilute. So DLE produces, and I, the DLE folks might throw bricks at me for saying, this, DLE produces dirty, dilute lithium chloride, right? You still have to refine it, you still have to concentrate it or remove a whole ton of water and then convert it.

Antoine Walter: And so what you try to find out here is what is the right technology to do that?

and to fine tune that so that for their demo plants or their big plants, they go with the right technologies. So that’s really what you’re doing.

Benjamin Sparrow: Exactly. We develop PFDs process flow diagrams. Mm-hmm. , optimize them on a mass balance level at a computer level, and then test it in our pilot plants to, um, confirm the pfd, but also to very importantly provide them lithium carbonate samples and lithium hydroxide samples that they can then provide to their off-takers

Antoine Walter: so that you can prove that it’s really

Benjamin Sparrow: battery.

Correct, correct. And they can take those samples to the off-takers. They can sign contracts, they can then secure financing and build their facility.

Antoine Walter: When you discuss with water professional, they always tell you that every drop of water is different. Hence, especially when you go on the dirty side of water, you have to capture your process all the time.

And when you discuss your financial people, they tell you, come on, can that really be true? Can’t we just standardize stuff? Now that’s a different field. It. concentrated brine. It’s dirty. Liam Carbonates. Ellu. Is it really that way that every single sample you receive is different, or do you also see trends like that comes from South America?

It’s gonna be mostly like that, or that comes from North America? It’s gonna be mostly like

Benjamin Sparrow: that. There’s absolutely trends and there’s a lot of similarities within the, within lithium plants. Um, I’d put it this way. So, and again, these examples behind us are a great example. any CRC plant, it’s often the same processes.

You’ll have a lithium carbonate reactor and you’ll have a evaporative crystallizer or an evaporator that’s behind you, but the process flow diagram for that plant will differ based on their chemistry. You’re rearranging the parts of Mr. Potato head to put together an optimized plant. .

Antoine Walter: So that means that step three could become step two, or how much would you rearrange it?

Correct. Okay. Correct.

Benjamin Sparrow: Okay. There’s a little bit of furniture rearrangement. Step five in some cases might be bigger. Step five, for example, would be an ion exchange polish. Some brine have increased boron levels, so they might need a boron extraction system and increased ion exchange. Some plants or some lithium resources have lower boron, so they do not need that step.

Antoine Walter: And from all these steps, what’s the tricky part D. . Okay. So we not within this crc it’s comes the tricky part Comes before,

Benjamin Sparrow: yeah, yeah. To, to your very good point. There have not been, um, really legitimate end-to-end d l e commercial plants built. Uh, there is a D L E system operating South America that’s been operating for some time, generation one and it’s bolted to an evaporation pond, so we should have actually spoken about that.

So, um, and uh, so, so that plant’s been around for some time and then there’s also some D L E CRC plants in. .

Antoine Walter: So what’s the best combination? Do you always bolt the CRC next to the D l e or the evaporation pond or whatever it is? Or would you also see the possibility to have this conversion plant somewhere else, like closer to the battery production?


Benjamin Sparrow: good question. So, uh, this is where one can get into distributed production. So let’s take for example, an oil field type analogy. And there’s a lot of. Oilfield containing pardon of me. Lithium containing oilfield brine. And in the oilfield, they’ll often use the term of battery, right? And I’m not talking about battery in terms of positive and negatives, but a collect gathering battery.

And so you might, for example, have a series of wells that come to one d l e spoke, if you will. , that DLE system is producing dirty, dilute lithium chloride. You then may have some concentration close to the dle, reverse osmosis, maybe ultra high pressure, reverse osmosis, and produce a even more concentrated lithium chloride juice, which you then ship to a centralized refinery.

That centralized refinery is receiving concentrated lithium chloride from various uh, locations, and then further refining it and converting it. So sort of like a hub and a spoke. Um, some are looking at that strategy for their lithium developments in terms of shipping lithium chloride, right to a battery manufacturer.

I’ve certainly heard talk of that, but you’re shipping a lot of water and, um, those economics and the GHG impacts of it may be questionable.

Antoine Walter: It kind of makes as an we speak. I mean, when we spoke last year, you mentioned how lithium had multiplied price by by five. And that was the highest it was. It has it had ever been at that time and since then, it’s been a bit up, a bit down, but mostly flat.

All specialists say that it’s gonna be staying above, almost all specialists say it’s gonna be staying above this $50 per kilogram of 2000 perton at that price. The beauty is that everything is profitable. Everything is economical, including. Putting rocks not even concentrated into boats and crossing the word with it.

So in that happy bubble, we could be testing everything. So is it like an open space for the imagination, or how would you see that?

Benjamin Sparrow: In my view, I think a key metric there is going to be speed. So eventually, um, high prices will solve high price. A lot of projects will get developed and prices will erode, and so those who are first to production with speed will then achieve cash flow and achieve profitability and will survive.

And of course, they hope that their costs are among the lowest on the cost curve. Those who are late and on the highest on the cost curve, they may miss the boat. Uh, it may be that at that time on an inflation adjusted basis, lithium comes back down to $10 a kilo. . So it’s very important for speed. Hence again, why these digitized modularized plants are beneficial.

You can get them out fast, you can get them installed, you can get to production

Antoine Walter: in, you know, there’s, there’s this saying that in a gold rush, the one making money is the guy who sells the tools. So it’s not the gold rush, it’s a wide oil rush, but we all know that. Mm-hmm. , at least 2 million tons will be needed by 2030.

Other say three or five. , everybody’s throwing numbers. One thing’s for sure is that there’s an imbalance between demand and supply. Mm-hmm. , I’ll just restart the camera. You bet.

Benjamin Sparrow: I’m glad you caught up with Joe. Larry,

Antoine Walter: I. puts a lot of pressure on him. good. I’ve been writing to him a lot. Yeah. I’ve been listening a lot to his podcast as well, so I had informed views on what he was saying. Yeah. And he’s brilliant, so

Benjamin Sparrow: Yeah. Yeah. I think he was, I think, uh, during our last session you asked who he was, the one person you should have next on the podcast.

I’m not sure if you’re call, I said, Joe Lowry . Um, let’s continue.

Antoine Walter: Um, so yeah, in, in a gold rush, you would expect to the, I mean the, the tool seller to, to be, what’s that, sorry, I lost my, I know where

Benjamin Sparrow: you’re going. Okay. Um,

so there’s white

Antoine Walter: gold, so it’s, it’s, it’s white oil. Mm-hmm. , um, and you are basically setting the tools. So is that the best position to be in the.

Benjamin Sparrow: Huh? It depends on who you ask. Uh, it would be wonderful to own a lithium resource, but you’re less diversified. You’ve got one chance to make that resource successful.

Saltworks. Our view is we’re quite diversified in selling the equipment and the most advanced tools to help people refine and recover their lithium. There is a lot of lithium on this planet and there’s a lot of lithium in all various brine, and the world could easily get to the 2 million tons per year of lithium carbonate that we.

with the resources that are known today, it’s going to be those that can move fast enough and develop the projects in a risk managed fashion that will supply that market. And, uh, that’s again, where we really focus is providing those tools, providing them that they’re robust, they’re reliable, they’re effective, and they’re dis digitized and they’re fast.


Antoine Walter: we’ve discussed a lot of objective parameters. Mm-hmm. , I mean, the cost, the technology. And the market trends. Mm-hmm. , which is maybe already a bit more subjective, but still pretty objective. There is nevertheless a big subjective part to all of that, which is geopolitics. Hmm. You have an existing route for lithium, which starts in Australia, puts whatever they can put into boats, ship it to China.

That route has been slowed down, which means China has started expanding to Africa. I mean, I’m not freewriting the Fuji politics. What I’m interested in is your view. , this North America Nexus. Mm-hmm. . Just in Vancouver, I found 12 companies, which are more or less dealing with lithium at different stages of, of the lithium route.

And even when I was discussing with Canadian companies, they told me, maybe we shall make sure that we have a Canadian value chain from A to Z, because repeating what we’ve done with oil and the dependency to the us. Might be dangerous. So is it like every single country will need ultimately to build its lithium value chain, or where do you set the bar?

Benjamin Sparrow: Okay. All right. We’re talking about geopolitics. Ah, that’s a broad one with a, with a technical geek. Um, so if we do talk about geopolitics in lithium, we should certainly talk about Bolivia at. Because Bolivia could, if they develop their lithium natural resource and just put ponds in, they would solve the supply.

Uh, come close to solving the supply demand imbalance. Uh, now as far as geopolitics in the US and Canada, um, this is maybe just geology and I won’t pretend to be a geologist. The US has higher concentration, lithium containing brine. Take the smack over or the Salton sea. Their lithium concentrations are 250, sometimes 300 milligrams per liter, so they’re 2 5300.

In Canada we’re 70 a hundred. The best was just found 190 odd. So Canadian lithium brine are weaker. In terms of lithium concentration, but like everything in Canada, they’re enormous. Everything’s bigger here. We’re a huge natural resource country, so there’s no doubt, a technological leap that needs to be made in Canada to provide access to those lower concentration, lithium brine, and there’s good companies working on that.

Uh, at the end of the day, I’m not sure that many automotive companies would really care where they got their lithium as long as they got it. I think their biggest need right now is supply. I’m sure they’d care if it was unethical, but if they could buy it from, if there’s ethical production South America, which there certainly is now, or Bolivia or Canada or the us, I’m not sure they would be too fussed about that.

Antoine Walter: That’s another one where I would, I’ve raised that question. To many of the people I, I’ve, I’ve met within that, that deep dive on the lithium topic, and I’ve got contrasted answers. So I’m interested in your opinion. You mentioned how they might look at what’s ethical or not ethical if in the coming decades we have such a strong imbalance between supply and.

Wouldn’t they just grab whatever is available regardless of ethics? It,

Benjamin Sparrow: yeah, it, it depends. I honestly don’t know the answer to that. I hope. Uh, and of course the question of ethics is a sliding scale. You could have the greenest, most ethical lithium in the world, and, uh, it’d probably be among the higher cost.

Um, I know I wouldn’t want to buy an electric car that had unethical lithium or unethical critical minerals. Um, , it’s that sliding scale. And where does white turn to gray to black? Um, I think there’ll be a lot of gray lithium on the market. and I think the automotive companies are going to accept it.

Antoine Walter: You mentioned the minerals and probably the best or worst example is cobalt.

Where anyways, 100% of the worst production is unethical. So Correct, but that’s a tangent. I don’t want you to, to bring it there. Um, I mentioned if you

Benjamin Sparrow: buy an EV by iron phosphate, lithium bion, bat Liam Lithium iron phosphate. so

Antoine Walter: you can be choosing with your, your, I mean, when you’re, yeah. Taking your car, you’re basically choosing the, the supply route.

That’s, yeah, that’s a good one.

Benjamin Sparrow: Lithium iron phosphates. A more sustainable lithium resource.

Antoine Walter: Coming back to this Canadian story Hmm. From the projects. I tried to track all the project, which are announced to come live between now and 2030. I made a list of them. Maybe I missed one. So, uh, if, if anyone wants to correct me, I’m really up for, for corrections, but there’s a strong pattern.

40% are developed by Australian companies. 40% are developed by Canadian company, and then the rest of the world is working on the 20% remaining projects. . So does that make Canada the future big lithium country?

Benjamin Sparrow: Well, the Canadian companies that are developing lithium projects, they’re often not on Canadian resources.


Antoine Walter: Yeah. What’s the company itself, which develops it

Benjamin Sparrow: is, yeah. Yep. Correct. So Lithium America’s who um, will soon hopefully build Tacr Pass, America’s largest lithium mine. They’re headquartered in Vancouver Standard Lithium, who’s a leader in DLE and lithium brine extraction. , the Smackover Reservoir in Arkansas is headquartered in Vancouver, so, uh, there’s a lot of mining talent in Canada similar to Australia.

Mm-hmm. . And I think what you’re seeing is you’re seeing a natural progression of that into the lithium industry, but they go where the resources are.

Antoine Walter: Do you team up with your neighbors?

Benjamin Sparrow: Uh, yes, absolutely. Neighbors meaning in Vancouver or neighbors? Meaning in the us.

Antoine Walter: In Vancouver would be the closest neighbors.

Then there’s another spot in Calgary and then probably in the us. Yep. No, we

Benjamin Sparrow: do, we we go where, um, our clients are looking for our type of advanced technology and modular solutions and back to the discussion around there being a lot of lithium and a lot of lithium developments underway. I think the industry is Sue going to find that one of their constraints is process equipment.

what do you mean by that? There’s not a lot of companies producing the process equipment to direct lithium, extract the lithium, and then to concentrate and refine and convert it. They’re going to find a, uh, longer lead times.

Antoine Walter: So you’re saying that basically you, you, you might be the bottleneck.

Benjamin Sparrow: Us and our competitors.

And that has implications on the water treatment industry as well, because with the lithium industry heating up and, uh, these clients move fast and they have a willingness to pay, that’s going to draw capacity out of the water treatment industry. And so this will, this will all unravel in the coming years.

I hope I’m wrong, but I, I think, uh, in fact, we already know that lead times are increasing across the board. Some of our competitors are quoting up to three. ,

Antoine Walter: I won’t give any names. Mm-hmm. . But I can tell you a bit of behind the scenes I’ve discussed with some board professionals and I was surprised to see them moving into the lithium space.

And I asked them why they did so, and they told me we are sick and tired of these three to four persons profit margin markets. We also want to go into the 30 and 40% profit margin market. So it sounds like your provision has lots of chances of happening. , what’s your le, I mean, you mentioned some of your competitors are three to four years lead time.

What’s your lead time right now at Saltworks? Are you reaching limits? Can you grow as fast as the market? So,

Benjamin Sparrow: um, our lead, it depends. , for a end-to-end plant, multiple unit operations are lead times about 12 months for a single unit operation and extreme U efforts about six months. For a bigger plant it will increase, but lead times are absolutely increasing and across the.


Antoine Walter: in the middle of an amazing production center. You have everywhere across the building, additional tents with stuff happening. Is it that you’re moving the walls or do you have to to grow faster?

Benjamin Sparrow: Um, well, we do a lot of testing outside and, uh, welcome to Rainey Vancouver. So we have to keep rain, rain off of things.

Um, but we’re, we won’t grow out of this facility anytime soon. So we have work underway. We can four x production at this facility and, and we’ll do that, but we’ll soon be adding a satellite facility, uh, alongside our growth. All of our. Amazing partner vendors have been growing. So these steel frames are fabricated in British Columbia.

These tanks are fabricated in Texas. Uh, our electrical panels are made by a great company here in, in British Columbia. They’ve grown 40% alongside of us, so the whole industry is growing.

Antoine Walter: What’s your growth rate, uh, in terms of headcounts? Let’s use that one.

Benjamin Sparrow: Sure. So our revenue and order book is growing much faster than our headcount.

Okay. Because the company was designed to scale, um, and, and we’re now seeing that, but our growth rate’s about a hundred percent a year, whereas our head count’s about 30, 40% a

Antoine Walter: year. So that’s the typical path of a unicorn

Benjamin Sparrow: maybe, but we’re not trying to achieve that status. . Yeah, we just, we sincerely, honestly like doing the good work to deliver robust, reliable technology that either treats harmful wastewaters to protect aquatic ecosystems, or helps refine and recover lithium to advance the ev re revolution, advance grid energy storage, and to do so in a more sustainable manner.

Antoine Walter: I mentioned my, my tracking of the projects. Out of this projects, there’s a minority of daily projects. I found 11 of them, which are in, in a phase. They are beyond the definitive visibility study, so, or about to release the dfs. These 11 projects represent a 7.7 billion US dollar investments, so, , what’s, is that also on the critical path, this investment into that sector or Really the materials are much more critical in terms of coming in the way than money.

Money’s plentiful.

Benjamin Sparrow: Uh, I could be biased. , um, permits are an absolute requirement. . So per lack of permits can derail things or lack of, uh, stakeholder involvement like can derail things completely. Um, there’s a lot of lithium in the world. There’s a lot of capital that wants to be spent on lithium in the world, but there are not a lot of companies that can genuinely build and deliver full scale plants, both at A D L E and at a CRC stage.

What we’ve found when I consider the companies are very forward thinking, they’re working early to develop partnerships. With DLE companies, with companies like us and with the manufacturing capacity to make sure they can deliver. If they wait too long, they might find that they’re in a three or four year lead time window.

Antoine Walter: So let me give you my personal little projects because hearing you, I might have to move fast. So I’d like to secure that we have everything, uh, in the right direction to give you a bit of background. Um, I’m coming from the south of Zas, which is the eastern part of France, which used to be a place where there was potash mining.

So the full underground is full of potash mining. And once they exhausted the potash, they had a very clever idea. They used ths mines to store some, um, dangerous waste. And they did that for three years, and then it caught fire. And then the. Broke down and they had to stop, and now it’s been 20 years that they’re wondering what to do.

That waste with the mine, with whatever. So that’s one portion of the story. The portion of the story I won’t be going into today. The other portion of the story is that as they were evaluating the impact on the environment of that potential hazard, somewhere in, in, in the grounds, they took some water samples and um, and they found out that they had high lithium concentrations.

and I actually have to say they didn’t find that out. Nobody mentioned it. It’s just that I read the reports and the report was talking about everything else cuz they really looked at the environmental hazard. And when I looked at the report I said, Hey, sounds like a lot of lithium. So it’s kind of stupid what I’m doing because I’m doing that on record and people might be stealing that idea, but it sounds to me like I could become a billionaire with your help

So in preparation for our discussion, I sent you. and lasers of water? Yes. And uh, let me start with the lithium itself. Mm-hmm. , I compared it to what I knew, so I compared it to Vulcans projects in in Germany and I compared it to the SEL sea in the US and my sample has almost twice the lithium. Is that good

Benjamin Sparrow: news on the surface?

Yes. But there’s a metric in Lithium that a lot of people don’t speak about and that’s the lithium to tds. .

Antoine Walter: So when you say on the surface, yes, I would expect that my lithium to TDS ratio is very bad. So

Benjamin Sparrow: it’s, you’re better than the Salton Sea . Uh, you’re not as good as Vulcan.

Antoine Walter: And so what’s in particular, I mean three, the tds, so the total, which is problematic, or do you have specific scavengers that you should look for?

Benjamin Sparrow: So, so there, there’s many, um, dimensions to this. Your lithium resource. , how much water is there? So is it just one underground mine that once you’ve extracted it, you’re said and done? Or is that replenished and does, does the lithium continuously flow

Antoine Walter: in? I don’t know if the lithium will be flowing. What I know is that it’s part of the Rhine Valley, uh, water system, which is one of the biggest of the world.

So water is plentiful. I don’t know exactly where the lithium comes from, so. Mm-hmm. , the lithium source might be depleting at some points. I didn’t raise money yet, so

Benjamin Sparrow: I . Yeah. So, so let’s take the optimistic view and, and both of us can pretend to be geologists. Uh, so. Let’s assume then that this lithium resource continuously gets recharged with water and dissolves more lithium and brings it to the well where you’re bringing up lithium.

So, so, so if that’s true, then that’s a good thing. Um, you’ll have a continuous flow of water from which you can continue to extract lithium, your lithium. Am I allowed to disclose to your listeners what your lithium concentration is? You can. All right. So, uh, thank you very much for your, this data. Your lithium concentration is very good.

It’s 300 to 400. Milligrams per liter versus the Salton Sea in this dataset being 200, sometimes a bit higher, and then Vulcan being 200. So you absolutely have higher lithium concentration if you have AFL of the flow rate. That’s a good thing. Do you know if you have a means to dispose the brine after you’ve extracted the lithium?

Antoine Walter: I guess I can put it back exactly who it was, , which might not be solving the environmental hazard, but I’m, I’m here to make money, so , I’m fine. .

Benjamin Sparrow: Um, yeah. So you need to find a place to. and find a place to put it that it doesn’t frustrate or disrupt your lithium resource because if you, you know, you’ve extracted lithium, you put the brine back underground, you might just be diluting your lithium resource.

So Brian disposal is absolutely key to DLE projects. Okay. And, and this needs to be a DLE project. Um, otherwise you’ll have all this water on the surface in order to put it. And I presume you cannot build evaporation ponds in the south of France.

Antoine Walter: Okay. I could say that. Uh, my hometown is comma, and just next to Kmar, we have the place which is the driest of the entire France.

but it’s right that compared to other countries, driest of France still doesn’t mean much. So yeah, evaporation pond probably are not a, a possibility. Right. Especially because we wouldn’t find the ground for that.

Benjamin Sparrow: But yeah. Yeah. I’m stakeholders and permit, so I check into permitting, um, in particular around Brian disposal because if you can’t dispose the brine, your project’s probably dead.

Okay? So you need porosity, you need flow, um, you need Brian disposal, you need infrastructure, um, power. And uh, but then if we get into the chemistry, your lithium to TDS ratio, is oh oh two. Um, pardon me, Vulcans Lithium to TDS ratio. Our resources oh oh two. Yours is oh oh one 13, whereas the Saltan C is oh oh one.

This is, and your TDS is very, very high. So although you’ve got this 300 or 400 milligrams per liter, lithium, your TDS is. 240 to 360,000. So it’s nearly saturated and that’s why you must use D l E. If you just try to evaporate the water off and precipitate out the salt to concentrate up at lithium, you’d lose all the lithium with the precipitated salt.

Okay, so you need D L E and then becomes a question of do you go generation one, D L E, Illumina and water wash. or do you go generation two, tighten eight. Manganese oxide and acid and base. So what’s water access like in your region?

Antoine Walter: Plenty full. Okay. So really the Rain River could stop flowing. We would still have water for a century, so water is

Benjamin Sparrow: available.

Okay. Um, and if you want to do it fast because you need to get to market fast, um, you’d probably want to go generation one. DLE technology. It’s readily and available today. Uh, if you can solve the brine disposal problem, then you might be onto.

Antoine Walter: So you’re saying that the Salt Sea, which is developed by Berkshire Hadaway, so Warren Buffet, which got 14 million grand from the federal US governments at the same day the Biden administration was inaugurated, has.

less of a goods project than I could have in my backyard.

Benjamin Sparrow: I do not want to say anything about their project. being lesser good. Everybody knows that the Saltan Sea is a very complicated resource. So we’ve only talked about a few metrics. Then there’s all of the other chemistry in the soup. So is there H two s in your water and does that need to be managed?

What happens when you depressurize your. are there naturally occurring, uh, radioactive materials, norms in your water and the Saltan Sea? It’s a very interesting resource, but it has a lot of stuff in it and that’s why it’s fantastic that the doe and companies like Berkshire Hathaway Energy, there’s companies like, um, ESM and others.

controlled thermal resources are all working to solve that problem.

Antoine Walter: If I zoom out from my very particular case, which I know cuz I really tell now too much, but my, my father re retired end of last year and he’s only project he’s still pursuing is getting. Critical waste out of the ground. Mm-hmm. . So it’s like really now the, the goal of his life is to get that down. And, um, and he thought that maybe if I can find some use for that lithium, it could, it could help.

So long story short, what I’m wondering is that, is there these kind of lithium reach resources a bit everywhere and we just never looked for it. .

Benjamin Sparrow: So there is lithium everywhere. Um, and I’m, I’m not sure that we’ve never looked for it. People have been aware, but now because of high lithium prices, people are coming increasingly aware.

Uh, again, I come back to there are no shortage of lithium brine that can supply the world’s needs. It’s just a matter of permitting them and building the plants.

Antoine Walter: So assuming I, I get the permits right, assuming I order all the systems. A ideally company, you’re gonna recommend me and then hold the c r t from from you.

What would be your expectation in terms of timeline? When can I be up and running?

Benjamin Sparrow: So I’ll set permits aside because I don’t understand them. Um, and we’ll assume you have Brian disposal. You’re probably looking, and if you, and, and, and the money’s available, you’re probably looking at about four. and, uh, you’re probably looking about a, at a cost of production from a process equipment standpoint, coupled with chemicals and energy, about $10,000 a ton.

Antoine Walter: So with today’s spot market of 70,000, I have a good potential to make a good profit. Yeah, you still need

Benjamin Sparrow: to build a building. You need to do other things. , but that’s the process equipment, the core of it. DLE plus crc, $10,000 a ton, not what some people are seeing on the stock market.

Antoine Walter: Okay, so that might be the last episode of this podcast because right now I’m changing gears and , I’m becoming a dle, uh, uh, a GLE play.

But, uh, thanks a lot for having taken the time to, to study with my, my stupid little project.

Benjamin Sparrow: It’s not stupid. It’s fascinating. And that’s great that you’re out. Um, innovating and hunting. , you may be onto something. You may not want to publish this podcast.

Antoine Walter: No, I sure want to publish it. Uh, I have one more question on that, that that market, which is, I joked a bit about Warren Buffet being involved in, in the Saltan Sea.

Bill Gates is involved with Lilac. Mm-hmm. . Um, is there like a move from. The eighties and nineties, big guys, big innovators or big financial persons to, to now be looking specifically at that lithium topic.

Benjamin Sparrow: I don’t know. Um, I honestly don’t know. It’s, it’s great that Bill Gates is out there spending some of his money on, uh, technology through Breakthrough Energy Ventures.

Um, others are too. All right. So, um, lilac is a, a good DLE company. There’s another one Summit, uh, nanotech based in Calgary. They’re both generation two DLE companies, uh, both working very hard. And then you have the generation one DLE companies and they’re all receiving a lot of funding and, and for a good reason.

Who would be the

Antoine Walter: generation one Letham companies? Uh, there’s

Benjamin Sparrow: esm. . Um, there’s, I, I need to be very careful here cause some of them are our clients. Uh, maybe people should Google

Antoine Walter: Okay. . Sorry, I don’t want to put you in that

Benjamin Sparrow: position. Yeah. But, but a shout out to all of the lithium innovators out there trying to improve lithium extraction technology to improve sustainability and improve the cost curve.

Um, there’s a lot of hardworking people and

Antoine Walter: if you can with a bit of a joking touch. Um, we all know that Elon Musk spent a hell of money on Twitter knowing that Tesla might be in trouble any time with lithium supply, wouldn’t have. I mean, now let’s imagine you are the richest guy on earth and not Elon.

Uh, would you invest in Twitter early lithium supply chain?

Benjamin Sparrow: I certainly don’t want to comment on Elon or or uh, Tesla because I have great admiration. I guess that for them. , yes. Uh, but. , I would absolutely be investing in accelerating lithium resource development and technology development. And I think you’re going to see the Canadian government, uh, do exactly that in the coming future with their critical mineral strategists as the US government has

Antoine Walter: that, that’s one thing maybe on, on the geo political side to, to come back a bit to, to that aspect of the story, the governments.

Pushing at different places. If you look right now, what’s happening in Europe, there’s a big push for battery plants, so gigga factories, and there’s a 10 to one ratio worldwide between what’s invested in Gigga factories and what’s invested in lithium. Spot on. Is it because that’s really the cost ratio, that’s a gigga factory costs 10 times more than the Liam supply chain, or is it because we are not.

focusing on the rights part of the supply chain.

Benjamin Sparrow: Y you’ve uncovered a, an imbalance that everybody who works deeply in the lithium sector is aware of. There’s not going to be enough lithium carbonate, lithium hydroxy to go into all of the lithium battery factories being built. It takes two years to build a lithium battery factory and a couple billion dollars.

It takes a lot longer to build a mine.

Antoine Walter: So it looks like my project has a good, , a good position in that market because thanks to you, I can be up and running in four. And the imbalance is here to stay. So it does, it does.

Benjamin Sparrow: Um, yeah, if, if you’ve figured out the disposal, if there’s brine disposal there, and if there’s good porosity, it’s very exciting.

Maybe I’ll quit my job and join you ,

Antoine Walter: then I’ll get you to Europe for that. Very good. So, um, , is there an elephant in the room I missed in that word of

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Rapid fire questions:

We are recording that. just one months away from the UN Water Conference. So I’m op opening with that. Rapid for a question. If you had one topic that you could put on the agenda of the un, what would it be?

Benjamin Sparrow: Um, stop putting deleterious matter into the rivers and lakes that provide healthy, long-term, sustainable drinking water. Protect the rivers and lakes. You end up protecting drinking water from millennia.

Antoine Walter: Is there anything in your job that you won’t be doing in 10 years? Uh, with,

Benjamin Sparrow: well, Is there anything in my job I wouldn’t be doing?

10 years? I think I already answered this one. Yeah. Sorry, I went off topic. Can we , um, try, try me again because I I have my, sorry, I lost it. .

Antoine Walter: Well, the promise that you, you got my traditional list, so I have to be creative. Yeah. Um, you can ask me again now. Let, let me, let me steal one from, from Joe Laurie.

That, that, that way it’s gonna be really and. And, and homage podcast to, to what the great work he is doing. I mean, really appreciate what he’s doing. Um, what’s your favorite movie

Benjamin Sparrow: right now? Taro. Don’t Know It. I have a three year old child, and she loves Taro. It’s a Japanese movie about a wonderful mythical being that takes care of children and, uh, helps ’em find their.


Antoine Walter: I have to discover it because we are more a paper pick family, but . Um, and who would we, I mean, I’ve listed you all the people I’ve talked to with within that, um, I mean all the types of profiles I’ve talked to within that deep dive mm-hmm. , did I miss one of the aspects of this lithium value chain?

And who would you advise me to, to speak to next?

Benjamin Sparrow: I think it’d be very interesting to speak to some of the battery cycle. . So, uh, lifecycle, lifecycle redwood, um, they’re equally building lithium concentration, refining converting plants, but from waste feeded stock. .

Antoine Walter: Well, Ben, it’s been a pleasure to spend that hour with you.

I will put your links into the, the, the, the show notes of course, but if there’s anywhere else that I should redirect people outside of your LinkedIn and saltworks net websites,

Benjamin Sparrow: what would it be? I have a very small online footprint, so that’s exactly it. But, um, Saltworks is definitely open for business and looking to help accelerate the EV revolution with sustainable.


Antoine Walter: which kind of leads or customers would be the right fit? The ones which you wouldn’t know yet? No more,

Benjamin Sparrow: please. No more. Okay. ? Yeah, the, the cup is overflowing. Um, we’re just really deeply focused on delivering for the key lithium projects. Amazing. Yeah. So thank you for having me on your podcast and Thanks.

Thank you for helping to inform your listeners and let’s discuss

Antoine Walter: next year. Wonderful. Great.

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