Government looks to invest in trailblazing Kiwi company

Jack Tame
Source: 1News

The Government is considering investing in a Kiwi company which has developed a world-leading technique for recovering one of the world’s most valuable elements.

Geo40 scientists are recovering lithium from geothermal waste fluid in the central North Island.

After developing and testing their ‘geo-sieve’ technology near the Ōhaaki geothermal power station, Geo40 is preparing to test the technology on similar fluids from around the World.

“I think we all know lithium will play an enormously important role in the green transport revolution,” says Geo40 chief executive John Worth.

“The part of the sector we’re aiming at is that EV battery market. And it isn’t easy to find a really sustainable source of lithium; one that’s low carbon and environmentally sustainable.”

The technology was developed at Geo40’s recovery plant at the Ōhaaki site, it extracts colloidal silica from geothermal brine for use in a range of applications.

By first removing silica, scientists are then able to recover more valuable resources.

If the company scales up at the Ōhaaki site, Geo40’s scientists estimate they can recover lithium for twelve Tesla car batteries every day.

But the real opportunity lies with other sites overseas and brines with lithium concentrations thirty times stronger than in New Zealand.

“The next six to nine months is very much heads down. By Christmas we will be building a pilot plant and what we will do with the pilot plant is use it to process larger volumes of fluid from all over the world," says Worth.

Ngati Tahu has also supported Geo40’s Ōhaaki development.

“Our goal is we’ve never let go of what our tūpuna believed in and what our nanny and our Koroua believed in, which was to connect and live around our marae.

"To live around our river and to live on our own whenua," says Ngati Tahu Tribal Lands Trust spokesperson, Mana Newton.

“We see these developments as a stepping stone to help us to achieve that.” 

The project has won the support of Kānoa, the government’s revamped Provincial Growth Fund.

In 2019 the fund granted Geo40 a $15 million loan to build the silica recovery plant, and later swapped some of the loan for an equity stake in the company.

“We look at commercial opportunities in the regions. And we look at them from a commercial perspective but also broader social outcomes: productivity, sustainability, Māori economic development, and jobs.

"An investment like that was an opportunity to further those things,” says Kānoa’s Head of Investment, David van der Zouwe.

Cabinet ministers are considering a new proposal from Kānoa’s to invest in the lithium expansion. A decision is expected in the coming weeks.