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KenGen eyes sale of valuable minerals in geothermal fluids

Geothermal Development Company engineers monitor a well at the Menengai geothermal field in Nakuru. PHOTO | FILE
Geothermal Development Company engineers monitor a well at the Menengai geothermal field in Nakuru. PHOTO | FILE 

The Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen) is eyeing the sale of valuable minerals such as silica and lithium found in geothermal fluids as a strategy to diversify its revenue base.

The State-owned power generator is seeking a consultant to assess the feasibility of extracting minerals from the hot brines — the waste stream that geothermal power plants pump out of the ground.

KenGen managing director Albert Mugo said the firm is turning to innovation to exploit the minerals found in geothermal fluids which come from rocks below the earth’s surface.

“We want an expert to establish the technical and financial viability of this project.” Mr Mugo told the Business Daily in a telephone interview.
He declined to offer any timelines or capital commitments, saying it is still “very early” in the project cycle.

“If found feasible, we’ll go ahead,” he said.

The new venture of using geothermal by-products will potentially cut KenGen’s reliance on electricity sales to the national grid, which accounts for 94 per cent its income.

Total revenue hit Sh38.6 billion in the year to June 2016, with net profit nearly halving to Sh6.7 billion hurt by a lack of tax credit enjoyed the previous year, surging finance costs, and higher expenses.

KenGen, whose Olkaria geothermal field covers 20,400 hectares, presently forcefully redirects hot brine back to the ground primarily to maintain reservoir pressure.

“The consultant will carry out field testing and other studies necessary of the geothermal fluids in Olkaria geothermal field to establish the actual available quantity of the minerals and viability of the mineral extraction project,” KenGen says in its tender documents.

Studies by the US Department of Energy show that minerals such as lithium, manganese, zinc and silica are found in geothermal brine and can be commercially extracted.

KenGen says brine from its Olkaria fields contains about 600-800 milligrammes (mg) of silica per kilogramme of the fluid and 1.5 and 2mg per kilogramme of lithium in its geothermal springs.

Lithium is mostly used in making batteries, toys, in medicine to make pacemakers and also combined with aluminum form an alloy which makes high-speed railcars and planes. 

The mineral is currently trading at about $7,475 (Sh754,975) per tonne in the global markets.

Silica, which clogs tanks and pipes during geothermal generation, is used in the pharmaceutical and glass industry as well as making a range of resins.

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