By Tony Dhaliwal
Your favourite Program Manager is back with more content. This time, I’m talking about some of the innovative cleantech ventures we have in our Foresight ecosystem. I brought you up and out of your seats with my blog on remote work and staying organized and sane while working from home. This series, Cleantech Journeys, shines a spotlight on some transformative technologies Foresight is helping to commercialize.
I start my series with Amanda Hall from Summit Nanotech. She understands the lithium space and all the problems that come with mining this highly sought after mineral. It is no surprise to anyone that Amanda has her diverse team of 27 people working together synergistically on all the different initiatives a startup progresses through. I sat down with Amanda last month to talk about her entrepreneurial journey, the challenges regarding the lithium industry, and how Foresight has helped their venture.
To provide some context, Summit Nanotech is a direct lithium extraction technology company innovating direct lithium extraction (DLE) processes to economically and sustainably unlock lithium resources globally. The demand for lithium has skyrocketed the last few years and technologies like the one Summit offers can provide a solution that will help keep up with that demand. Currently, demand for lithium is at 292 thousand metric tons increasing to approximately 2.5 million metric tons by 2030, according to Statista, 2022.
Amanda’s epiphany occurred on top of a Tibetan mountain, where she saw a monk using a cell phone. She realized that lithium ion batteries are truly everywhere. It was during that period when China had an important presence in Tibet mining lithium in an unsustainable way.
Fast forward to Amanda having access to a government lab in Devon, Alberta through the Women in Cleantech Accelerator, drawing on her background as a geophysicist. This paved the way for the success Summit is having now. During the early phases of their business, Amanda states there were a lot of sacrifices the team made, but felt she had the support of the government, accelerators like Foresight, and a multitude of individuals who genuinely wanted her to succeed.
During the early trial phases of their business, Amanda addressed iteration in detail. The technology functioned well in a smaller setting but had difficulties scaling up. Then Covid hit, her lab shut down, and they were doing what they could through their mobile van and filtering and testing as much as possible. Eventually, they discovered a technical centre in a barn with three labs and some offices, and they established their pilot unit there. The team is currently working on seven projects, and their most recent pilots in Chile and another remote location have a diverse array of clients shipping brine to them. Amanda emphasized that feedstock can vary tremendously from each of these subterranean lithium pools and the data synthesized from these samples will be very important. Summit’s award winning denaLi™ direct lithium extraction (DLE) technology produces high quality lithium chloride, lithium carbonate and/or lithium hydroxide from natural lithium resources. The technology doubles yield, reduces GHG emissions, minimal use of chemicals and doesn’t use fresh water. The denaLi™technology is far superior to the traditional processes as it cuts chemical waste by 90% and has the capacity to recover lithium from lithium-ion battery recycling streams contributing to the circular economy.
Amanda has been on quite a roll and recently won the Women in Cleantech Challenge, earning her a $1-million award. Summit’s initial $10-million Series A round is now closing with an oversubscribed amount of $14-million. She stated that the non-dilutive government funding really assisted in validating their technology in-between the rounds of raising finance.
I asked Amanda how Foresight had helped grow their business. She spoke about how our quarterly assessments keep CEOs accountable to both short and long-term goals. Amanda took part in one of our first cohorts in Calgary for Launch and Deliver and stated those programs helped lay the foundation for their business. Foresight’s Sales and Business Development Workshop helped whip their sales team into shape with regards to messaging and tactics. Foresight is known for our variety of Executives in Residence (EIR) in both business and technical spheres. Amanda said the EIRs she’s worked with at Foresight have been instrumental with their strategic mentorship in developing OKRs, and guiding them through their technology development and commercialization roadmaps.
Whether I’m conducting an intake assessment or a quarterly, being coachable is a trait I’ve noticed the most regarding successful CEOs. I asked Amanda what she would say to encourage another venture to take part in a Foresight program. She emphasized that it’s critical to go through the programming Foresight offers. Having access to the cleantech network, being coachable, and learning from the EIRs who have the experience can assist you in avoiding errors as your company matures. Our ventures have access to EIRs with a broad range of business and technical experience – which is particularly important in cleantech.
It’s clear that demand for lithium will only increase with more electric vehicles on the road and the increase in battery manufacturing capacity. Summit Nanotech is positioned well to be a solution for the lithium mining space and provide a technology which economically and sustainably unlocks this resource globally. Foresight is pleased to be part of their success.