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New Zealand ‘White Gold’: Lithium Extraction Investment Could Catapult it as the Planet’s Green Tech Leader

As the third element on the periodic table, lithium may hardly ring a bell. But the alkali metal is the number one ingredient in electric car batteries making it front and centre in the planet’s thrust towards green technology. It is also rapidly gaining prominence with the ever-rising demand for electric cars globally,

New Zealand’s Economic and Regional Development Minister Stuart Nash confirmed this equity investment deal with the private sector is just the first investment of the government’s new Regional Strategic Partnership Fund (RSPF) aimed to help scale up the company’s lithium recovery technology. Referring to lithium as “white gold”, he said, “This is a game-changing programme as EVs are expected to account for more than half of new car sales in the Northern Hemisphere by 2030.”

Further, he pointed out that the process used to extract lithium overseas leaves a “heavy carbon footprint”. By contrast, this New Zealand initiative recovers lithium from geothermal brine and returns the water to the geothermal field in a clear bid for long-term sustainability. If the technology can scale to commercial levels and is proven successful, New Zealand could become a global leader in sustainable technology. That should move the needle on climate change.

Such a game-changing move could power the planet’s drive to move away from the current high dependency on fossil fuels while putting the country on the front seat of global green technology.

A top executive from the New Zealand lithium extraction power plant believes that while the amount of lithium in Ohaaki’s geothermal water is largely minimal it could be enough to licence the technology – for export to the world. Initially, they have successfully trialled their lithium recovery technology on geothermal fluids both in Europe and Argentina at a laboratory scale.

Such a collaboration of the private and public sectors could lead to dramatic results. As detailed by the company executive: “By taking an equity stake in the company, the government has the opportunity to share in the upside of the investment and the company has the opportunity for growth without the additional burden of debt on its balance sheet.”

Indeed, faith in this so-called “white gold” is expected to be a win-win for both parties. To boot, embarking on this green technology could help New Zealand achieve its carbon-neutral target by the year 2050.

Additionally, the financial side of this deal cannot be denied. Company executives revealed that silica exports, a product of past collaboration with the New Zealand government, fetched a price of about US$ 900 per tonne while lithium was worth ten-fold that: between US$ 10,000 to US$ 12,000 per tonne.

It’s not the first time a state-of-the-art technology is expected to boost the New Zealand economy. A data centre bent on building a second new centre in Auckland is set to help boost the local economy by as much as $1.4 billion. As reported by OpenGov Asia, the construction of the data company’s first data centre is already well underway.

By locating businesses in New Zealand, new jobs are created. What is even more astounding is the prospects of going global. Certainly, if the lithium extraction plant can make its plans work, selling the technology to bigger businesses abroad should follow. And that should transform the nation into a global leader in green technology.


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