UBC spin-off secures $10M investment from Bill Gates-led fund
February 14, 2022
A University of British Columbia spin-off company that has found a sustainable way to boost the global supply of battery-grade lithium has received $10 million in funding from Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the investment fund founded by Bill Gates to support the growth of clean energy technologies.
Formed by UBC chemical and biological engineering professor Dr. David Wilkinson and members of his research group in 2017, Mangrove Lithium has developed an innovative electrochemical system that enables raw lithium to be processed more efficiently — and from a more diverse range of sources — than ever before. Such sources include hard rock, clay, wastewater and brine resources.
By cutting costs and enhancing efficiency and productivity, the technology could help the world meet a rapidly rising demand for high-quality lithium, which is used predominantly in electric vehicle batteries. The widespread adoption of electric vehicles is a key part of many countries' greenhouse gas emissions reduction plans, including Canada's.
"Getting battery-grade lithium today is challenging, costly and potentially harmful to the environment, with yields of only about 50 per cent," says Dr. Wilkinson, who is also the Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Clean Energy and Electrochemical Technologies. "We're working to retrieve as much as 90 per cent of the lithium contained in raw mined material or brine, giving lithium producers and battery manufacturers access to high concentrations of high-quality lithium in a simple, cost-effective manner."
Mangrove's technology could also help reduce countries' dependency on China, which currently controls over 60 per cent of battery-grade lithium in the supply chain, Dr. Wilkinson adds.
The lithium processing method developed by the Mangrove team is an outgrowth of a pioneering electrochemical system it had created to convert carbon dioxide and saline wastewater — harmful byproducts of the oil and gas industry — into value-added chemicals and reusable water. That project was awarded $5 million in 2019 as a winner of the Emissions Reduction Alberta Grand Challenge, a five-year global competition led by the province of Alberta.
Mangrove's co-founders — Dr. Saad Dara, the CEO, Dr. Arman Bonakdarpour, a technical advisor, and Dr. Alfred Lam, the director — are all former members of Dr. Wilkinson's lab, making the company a true UBC Applied Science success story.
For more information about Mangrove Lithium and its work, please see the recent profiles of the company in CNBC and The Vancouver Sun.