The Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen) #ticker:KEGN has kicked off the search for consultants to determine the viability of extracting minerals such as silica and lithium from geothermal fluids in a revenue diversification bid.
The State-owned power producer in a tender notice Tuesday said the consultant will help it assess the feasibility of extraction for commercial use from the hot brines (geothermal hot waters) — the waste stream that geothermal power plants pump out of the ground.
“Over the years KenGen has invested heavily in generation of electricity using geothermal energy. All the geothermal plants owned by KenGen are single flash condensing type. The flashing process yields brine that contains mineral elements like Silica that could have commercial application,” it said.
“Owing to this, KenGen invites expression of interest from eligible firms and entities to provide application research on mineral extraction from the geothermal brine.”
Geothermal hot waters (brines) have been used for thousands of years for mineral baths and to heat homes, greenhouses and furnish hot water to local communities in certain areas of the world.
KenGen earlier said that 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.
Lithium is mostly used in making batteries, toys, in medicine to make pacemakers and also, combined with aluminium form an alloy which makes high-speed railcars and planes.
Lithium, a key component for batteries used in electric vehicles, is currently trading at about $13,000 (about Sh 1.3 million) per tonne in China, which is the world’s biggest consumer of lithium.
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.
KenGen, whose Olkaria geothermal field covers over 20,400 hectares, forcefully redirects hot brine back to the ground primarily to maintain reservoir pressure.
The new venture of using geothermal by-products will potentially cut KenGen’s reliance on electricity sales to the national grid, which accounts for over 90 percent its income.