Vancouver startup announces that Breakthrough Energy Ventures — an investment group founded by Bill Gates to advance zero-emissions solutions — is leading its Series A investment round, along with BDC Capital, to finance a commercial-scale refinery that will be faster, more flexible and cheaper than current facilities
Vancouver-based Mangrove Lithium is poised to open a commercial lithium refinery after successfully completing a US$10-million financing round backed by Bill Gates-headed Breakthrough Energy Ventures.
Mangrove employs a “feedstock-flexible, modular platform to produce battery-grade lithium hydroxide and lithium carbonate” according to company materials.
Essentially, Mangrove says its technology will enable efficient and more encompassing production of high-purity lithium — the supply of which is a potential concern for the rapidly expanding battery and EV supply chain in North America.
China refines over 60 per cent of battery-grade lithium worldwide and most raw lithium comes from Australia, Chile and Argentina. Benchmark Mineral Intelligence forecasts a potential 4.3 million tonne lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide supply gap by 2040.
“A sufficient supply of high-purity lithium is critical if the world is going to reach over 70 per cent EV penetration by 2040. There is a strong risk of this ambition being derailed if the emerging supply deficit is not addressed today,” according to Mangrove CEO Saad Dara in a press release announcing the latest funding.
Having Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV) as its lead funder adds credibility to the Mangrove Lithium refinery plan. Bill Gates and a group of private investors established BEV in 2015. The fund invests in “innovations that will lead the world to net-zero emissions” according to the BEV website.
“Transitioning to EVs is a critical step in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. Mangrove’s technology solves a huge constraint in electrifying the world’s vehicle fleet by enabling the lowest-cost, highest-purity lithium hydroxide — at a scale of hundreds of millions of vehicles — and can be applied throughout the supply chain,” reads a statement from Carmichael Roberts, business lead of the investment committee at Breakthrough Energy Ventures in the release.
BDC Capital and the Canadian government also support Mangrove’s lithium refining technology.
Mangrove Lithium came into being in 2020, but its origins date to work started at the University of British Columbia in 2013 by Dara, director Alfred Lam and technical advisors David Wilkinson and Arman Bonakdarpour.
In 2017, the team spun out a company called Mangrove Water Technologies: “a distributed manufacturing platform that converts waste gases and high salinity wastewater into chemicals for on-site utilization and desalinated water for re-use,” according to a company biography.
Filling a gap in the EV supply chain
Mangrove Lithium evolved from Mangrove Water after the latter’s founders noticed a gap in the electric vehicle battery supply chain. Mangrove Lithium applies Mangrove Water’s refining technology to the lithium refining process. It was in that same year the company secured $3 million in financing from BDC Capital’s cleantech practice.
In a statement about Mangrove’s newest funding, BDC’s director of cleantech practice, Vivian Kan, said that “this investment will continue to build on Canadian innovation and secure a stronger position for Canadian firms in the lithium and battery sector.”
Mangrove’s technology opens up an interesting new avenue of opportunity in the refining sector. One Mangrove refinery, located near battery cell manufacturers, will aggregate, and refine lithium in different forms from a various streams. The approach turns the refining process into a more efficient hub-and-spoke system — much like battery recyclers operate.
The company says they are able to produce lithium from brines, hard-rock, clays, and battery recycling streams. Phase one of Mangrove’s operations will concentrate on lithium brines “that represent 60% of global deposits.”
The company says it can recover “greater than 90% of the lithium from lithium concentrates.”
Mangrove has not announced where its refinery will be located or when it will be operational. But company materials show four proposed or considered locations ranging from central and western North America to Europe.
Prior interest in Canada
BEV’s interest in Mangrove is not the first time the investment group has supported Canadian companies.
In May 2019, BEV, in partnership with the Business Development Bank of Canada and Natural Resources Canada, launched a call for proposal as part of a $40-million national competition. Dubbed Breakthrough Energy Solutions Canada, the initiative intended to “leverage financing and expertise to support the advancement of Canadian clean energy technologies that can significantly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions,” according to government information.
Mangrove did not participate in the Breakthrough Solutions initiative, but the competition solidified BEV’s involvement in the Canadian cleantech sector.