The Venture Center is fueling growth and spearheading enthusiasm for Arkansas’ lithium industry

Posted on June 18, 2024
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By Arthur Orduña

Arkansas is poised to be the newest global leader in energy production, ensuring not only our state’s well-being but America’s industrial, economic and military security for the foreseeable future.


There’s wishful thinking, hyperbole and delusion that usually surrounds promising new discoveries. Not in this case.

The scientifically substantiated truth is that we are sitting on what could be anywhere from 12% to 15%—or even more—of the world’s supply of lithium, which is a critical mineral necessary for the production of batteries. From smartphones to electric vehicles to residential and commercial building energy storage systems, lithium powers a vast and continuously growing number of devices around the world. 

Most of today’s lithium is mined in Australia and South America, which sells and ships its refined lithium primarily to China who currently dominates the battery production supply chain. The U.S. and the EU are gigantic consumers of that supply chain’s products, which translates into a frightening and fragile dependence on a country who doesn’t necessarily have the world’s democracy’s best interests as a priority. Given geopolitical realities, this dependence needs to become independence.

Enter Arkansas. Specifically, Southwest Arkansas.

For the past 60 years, following the initial petroleum oil boom and diminution, several of the world’s largest mining companies have quietly been pumping up primeval brine in places like Magnolia and El Dorado from the Smackover formation, essentially a gigantic underground reservoir of mineral-rich hot salty liquid. Companies like Lanxess and Albemarle recover bromine from the brine, which is then used for a variety of products ranging from pharmaceuticals to agricultural chemicals. Once the bromine is extracted, the brine is pumped back underground to maintain geologic and environmental stability.  

That brine, however, contains not only bromine, but also high-quality battery-grade lithium.

Now, here’s what we think is the cool part of the story, especially if you like innovation.

Despite knowing there was lithium in the Smackover brine, no previous attempt was made there – or anywhere else in the U.S. – to extract it. The two methods traditionally employed are expensive, environmentally horrid and just plain wasteful: either you hard-mine and strip rock from a site, or you pump brine into huge man-made evaporation ponds, neither of which was appealing for Arkansas.

Hello DLE.

DLE—or Direct Lithium Extraction—is new technology that can quickly and efficiently filter the Smackover brine and extract battery-grade lithium, in a process that is significantly faster, cheaper and environmentally friendlier than the two conventional methods. Standard Lithium, an innovative Canadian lithium mining company, began a pilot in El Dorado more than five years ago, in partnership with Lanxess and other local enterprises. They worked in stealth, building out their pilot plant on an existing Lanxess site so they could leverage the current infrastructure and test their DLE system on brine from which Lanxess had already extracted out bromine. They burst out of stealth mode last fall, after extensive and successful 3rd party verification of their results, announcing to the state, the industry and the world that the newest and most significant source of lithium was now in Arkansas. Other producers, notably ExxonMobile, soon upped their investments, taking the first steps in building out what could be the new epicenter in global lithium production, and the start of a U.S. and EU independent battery supply chain ecosystem.

And we at The Venture Center, in partnership with the Arkansas Department of Commerce, Standard Lithium and others, are proud to be a part of the new Arkansas Lithium Working Group, which initially produced and launched the inaugural Arkansas Lithium Innovation Summit, held in February of this year, in Little Rock.

We were hoping for a hundred attendees. We ended up selling out weeks before the event, and brought in more than 800 industry, government, financial and academic attendees from around the country.

Now, we are building on the momentum generated by the Summit’s success and taking additional steps to ensure that accurate information, opportunities for collaboration, education and innovation are available for in-state and out-of-state companies, communities, agencies and individuals. 

Check it out for yourself, here, and stay tuned for more to come!