The Government has thrown its support behind world-leading lithium recovery technology being produced near Taupō, to the tune of $2 million.
Economic and Regional Development Minister Stuart Nash is at the Ohaaki Power Station north of Taupō today where he has announced the Government will invest $2 million from its new Regional Strategic Partnership Fund (RSPF) in Geo40 Limited, to help scale up its lithium recovery technology.
Nash says the technology has the potential to strengthen New Zealand's geothermal energy and advanced manufacturing sectors, and contribute to a lower-carbon future.
"This is a game-changing programme of work.
"The investment is the first by the RSPF. It delivers on a manifesto commitment to keep supporting regional economic development once the Provincial Growth Fund closed to applications. Regional leaders help set the strategic priorities for RSPF investment, which is seed funding as a catalyst for other investment."
Lithium is a highly prized element, in high demand for electric vehicle batteries and to help mitigate the impacts of climate change.
Nash says EVs are expected to account for more than half of new car sales in the Northern Hemisphere by 2030.
"Overseas, traditional ways of mining lithium leave a heavy carbon footprint. In contrast, the Geo40 programme involves new technology to sustainably recover lithium from geothermal brine, and return the water to the geothermal field. The brine is a watery residue containing mineral compounds, and is a byproduct of geothermal electricity generation.
"If we can successfully build up Geo40's green technology to commercial scale, New Zealand could become an international leader in technology for the sustainable supply of lithium, and help to build lasting action on climate change."
The technology could also help meet New Zealand's 2050 carbon-neutral target and create jobs to support the economic recovery. Expanding geothermal energy and advanced manufacturing opportunities in Taupō will be significant to diversify its local economy.
"The region is already renowned around the world as a tourist destination, with one in three jobs tied directly or indirectly, to tourism. Geo40 now offers a chance to further strengthen the regional economy and build more resilience for jobs and businesses.
"The investment of $2 million through Kānoa, the Regional Economic Development Unit, will see the Government take a further equity stake in Geo40 Limited. It will allow the company to progress its lithium recovery method before moving to commercial production.
"By taking an equity stake in the company, the government has the opportunity to share in the upside of the investment, and the company has the opportunity for growth without the additional burden of debt on its balance sheet."
Geo40 has a proven record of world-leading solutions to recover valuable minerals and elements from geothermal brine. It already exports silica, recovered from the Ohaaki site. The silica technology was also supported by the Government with a $15 million loan and equity funding from the Provincial Growth Fund in 2019.
"It is a collaboration between government, GEO40, the landowners and kaitiaki the Ngati Tahu Tribal Lands Trust, and power generator Contact Energy. Local government leaders across the region have also helped by endorsing energy and advanced manufacturing projects as priorities for investment from the RSPF.
There are 215 government-backed regional economic development projects in Waikato, with approved funding of $273 million.
Those in Taupō include the $20.6m redevelopment of the Taupō town centre and $5m to revamp Taupō Airport.
Others are more modest, such as $142,000 for tourism infrastructure such as toilets and kitchen facilities to support camping.
"And some have the potential to be truly transformational, like the developments at the Ohaaki site," Nash says.