Summit Nanotech: Cleaner Lithium Extraction
Often when writing this blog, the technical focus is on application development or machine learning. But application development isn’t the only type of tech that is being built in this province. Other areas like deep technology and nanotechnology are also in demand. Our latest interview with Amanda Hall, CEO of Calgary-based Summit Nanotech involves both.
Before we get into the technology aspects of our latest interview, let’s introduce you to Amanda. Much like Isaac Newton, Amanda decided to be a scientist after a brush with an apple tree. As a young girl, Amanda came across a particularly enticing tree. When she reached the top branches, the tree’s owner wanted to know why she’d climbed to the top and what she planned to be when she grew up. Her answer was “scientist”, which despite her young age guided her forward.
Not only does Amanda have bachelor of science degrees in biology, physics, and geophysics, but she also has a bachelor of arts in English. Her university training led her to working as a geophysicist in Alberta’s oil and gas sector and Canada’s potash sector. As she worked through the various types of extraction and mining, Amanda kept her eye on what was happening in technology worldwide. Sensing the change in the dynamics outside of Alberta in terms of energy production and use, she felt that there was a need to future proof her career.
Insatiable in terms of learning, Amanda started investigating lithium production and saw an opportunity for lithium production for batteries in Canada. Electric vehicles (EV), which are growing in popularity, require lithium batteries; however, producing EV batteries emits 60% more greenhouse gases than creating a combustion engine.
Using her background in extraction and realizing the need for responsible lithium extraction, Amanda started Summit Nanotech. Her team is working to generate battery-grade lithium compounds from brine fluids using nanotechnology and machine learning. Creating the technology for extraction from the ground up with a focus on Environmental social governance so that their process is the most green lithium technology in the world.
Deep technology is capital intensive as the challenges are significant. To give you an idea of those challenges, Amanda and her team are currently preparing for their first pilot in Chile. The pilot involves taking their extraction unit, which is in a 40-foot shipping container and putting it in the harsh desert in Chile. Beta testing is being done in Calgary, but the initial pilot is planned for having the extractor run 24/7 for three weeks straight onsite. As Amanda noted, the team doesn’t expect it to go smoothly, so they are planning to be onsite anywhere from three to six months. If you’re wondering why Amanda’s not testing this in Alberta, it turns out there are different types of brine, and the brine in South America and Alberta are different. Alberta brine would be more complex to process as it has more oil and sour gas components which requires more pre-conditioning. Additionally, in terms of lithium extraction, we have a smaller concentration of available lithium in Alberta.
So why did Amanda choose Calgary? It’s Amanda’s home base, it’s where her network is, and it’s where her family is. While it was a big leap to be the first company to focus on lithium extraction in Calgary, having her network there to support her has been important. Amanda has also found amazing support from the provincial government through Alberta Innovates. The federal government has also contributed, putting more than $800,000 into her start up. Focusing on leading-edge technology and on not creating an environmental mess, Amanda is looking forward to growing her company here in Alberta.
Check out our full interview: