Lilac Solutions

Founders

David Snydacker, Nick Goldberg, Tom Wilson

Industry

Advanced Materials

Background

Northwestern University

The fastest, most sustainable, and most efficient lithium extraction platform.

The lithium industry stands at the edge of a revolution. As the batteries which power our electronics are adapted and deployed at a massive scale to power electric vehicle fleets, lithium demand will grow exponentially. But lithium is difficult to produce — nobody has figured out how to do it efficiently or in a way that is environmentally sustainable. Today’s battery makers face a critical question: how will they secure the huge volumes of low-cost lithium they need to remain competitive in the electric vehicle era?

Lilac Solutions is the answer. The company, helmed by Dave Snydacker, Nick Goldberg, and Tom Wilson, is commercializing a new lithium exchange technology for lithium extraction from brine resources that is significantly faster, cheaper, and more scalable than existing technology, enabling the massive increase in lithium supply needed for electric vehicles. These incredible numbers are supported by extensive test work on more than 30 lithium brine resources from around the world.

Lithium brines hold approximately 75% of the world’s lithium resources, and are considered easier to access than hard-rock ore, but lithium extraction from brines represents a significant technological challenge. 

In traditional lithium brine extraction, brine is pumped to the surface into giant evaporation ponds where it evaporates over the course of months, at which point the remaining concentrated brine is pumped out and sent to a recovery plant and then further purified. The process requires enormous tracts of land and has a devastating impact on local water resources. And traditional brine extraction is shockingly inefficient — it can only recover 40% of available lithium. 

Lilac Solutions will eliminate the need for evaporation ponds. Its system extracts lithium directly from brine through a patented ion exchange process that is highly efficient (70%-98%, depending on brine quality). It also uses exponentially less land and water, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 80% relative to current brine-extraction methods. And projects can reach commercial production in two years, not ten. 

The Lilac team is uniquely qualified to champion this new lithium extraction process. The startup’s core technology was born out of Dave Snydacker’s obsession with solving climate change as well as his expertise in materials engineering. Snydacker met co-founder Goldberg when the pair were students at Wesleyan University, eventually reconnecting after Goldberg had established himself in a top corporate law firm in New York. Goldberg joined Lilac’s advisory board where his role quickly evolved to Chief Operating Officer.

In 2019, the pair was introduced to Chief Development Officer Tom Wilson at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business as Wilson was completing a Sloan Fellowship. Wilson had spent 14 years developing projects in the oil and gas industry. Lilac represented an ideal opportunity to apply his significant oil and gas experience to an emerging clean energy industry.

As a doctoral student in materials science and engineering at Northwestern University, Snydacker set out to advance battery technology, which he saw as critical to moving away from a fossil-based transportation system. After observing major industry investments in traditional lithium ion technology and repeated failures of competing battery technologies, he came to believe that further major breakthroughs in battery technology were unlikely. For automakers looking to modernize their fleets, the bottleneck was no longer battery technology — it was sourcing the raw materials for those batteries: especially lithium. 

Snydacker knew that ion-exchange — a proven technology used in water treatment, mining, and other industries that demand purified liquids — had the ability to transform lithium extraction. But those who had previously pursued the technology had failed to create a material that could absorb lithium without dissolving in the acid bath required to ultimately extract the element. The process had potential but faced a fundamental materials science problem. 

For a period of 30 consecutive weeks in 2017, the Lilac team made small changes to the formulation of their ion exchange bead. As Snydacker tells it, “It was an epic 30-week process. Every week we’d make small changes to the material and test it, and every week it would fail. I knew from a first-principles view that the science was sound — that it would work. We just had to get the material right. And at week 30 it finally clicked.” Lilac had created a material that could absorb lithium from brine, then be reused over and over again without dissolving. 

With this breakthrough, Lilac began scaling the core ion-exchange process. The company has now successfully demonstrated its system at the 1,000 L/hr scale, and the efficiency of the process has not been affected by this scale-up across four orders of magnitude. Commercial units on the horizon are planned to have a capacity of 10,000l/hr. 

Lilac Solutions has the potential to be the technology of choice for all new lithium brine projects.  The company is partnering with resource developers and lithium producers around the world to unlock sub-economic brine resources and efficiently expand lithium production. Lilac is harnessing its proven technology to transform an industry and usher in a renewable, electrified future.

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