Prairie Lithium: Zach Maurer
Welcome to The Corner Office CFO’s blog. The Corner Office provides outsourced accounting and finance services to small businesses in Saskatchewan. We work with businesses of all types and sizes, and love getting to work alongside incredible leaders and change-makers.
When most people think about suspended oil wells and wastewater brine they usually think, at best, that they’re a big mess to clean up. At worst, they’d consider these areas an environmental disaster. But Zach Maurer, CEO at Prairie Lithium, saw an opportunity in all those wells and wastewater. After researching the history and evolution of lithium in Saskatchewan’s subsurface during a Master’s program at the University of Regina, Maurer found “very, very large opportunities for lithium in the province.” Lithium carbonate, an integral chemical in electric vehicle batteries, can be sourced from oil field brine. This creates an almost symbolic opportunity to transition to renewable energy—the infrastructure needed to produce lithium brine is already in place because of the oil and gas industry.
Maurer’s average day at the office is a whirlwind of lab work, experiments, data analysis, consultations with stakeholders, and establishing relationships with vendors for supplies around the world. During this daily barrage of math, science, business management and economics Maurer says he’s “constantly problem solving”.
When asked if The Corner Office helped to alleviate some of the stress of an at times overwhelming job, Maurer replied “100 percent. Expense reports. Financial recordkeeping. Payroll. The Corner Office found and relieved all of the pain points we were experiencing in certain areas of our finances, which has given us more time to focus on the important strategic aspects of managing our company.”
“The Corner Office found and relieved all the pain points we were experiencing in certain areas of our finances.”
“Before we started working with the Corner Office we had absolutely no accounting processes in place. The Corner Office quickly changed that. They set us up with an accounting platform, and introduced us to tools like Receipt Bank and QuickBooks Online. These technologies help us categorize and track expenses immediately so that we can see real-time updates for where we’re at on certain budgets.” Maurer cites dashboard analytics and the ability to review his company’s financial history using Quickbooks online as two areas that have made a major positive impact on the financial side of Prairie Lithium.
“The Corner Office is awesome for start-ups”
Maurer says that having access to accounting professionals at a reduced cost over conventional accounting is a huge benefit for young start-ups, especially those who don’t have the need for a full-force internal finance department. “We deal with hundreds of vendors from all over the world so we’ve constantly got invoices and receipts coming in from all over. The Corner Office quickly and efficiently set us up with a platform to manage all of that. They just helped free us up in so many ways. It’s an ideal situation for a start-up.”
When asked about the future of this promising Sask startup, Maurer says, “We’re going to continue to try to develop lithium-rich brines in Saskatchewan. Continue to develop our technology and ramp up our capacity to produce lithium carbonate. Continued scale. Continued growth. Continued R&D. Obviously with the state of the world and the buzz around Electric Vehicles the lithium ion battery market is looking quite optimistic over the next decade.”
“Quite optimistic” might even be an understatement. Almost 30% of the electric cars owned globally were purchased in 2019. Since Covid-19 hit, there has been a massive push for investment into Prairie Lithium’s space. “Given the challenges that the oil and gas sector faced in the beginning stages of Covid-19 and the prices of oil going negative, we saw a lot of people wanting to invest in future-oriented industries like lithium production,” Maurer remarks. "This kind of investing has been slowly evolving over the past few years but it’s really exploded in 2020.”
The only operating lithium mine in North America produces approximately 1% of the global supply and uses pond processing that takes two years to go from brine to lithium carbonate. Meanwhile, Prairie Lithium’s technology takes a matter of hours to extract the lithium out of the brine. Impressive accomplishments like this have helped Maurer learn that stress is often just progress in disguise. “When I look back at what we’ve accomplished in the last year,” Maurer says, “well, it’s quite amazing. We’re just trying to embrace the challenges and look forward to the opportunities.”
Maurer is excited to move forward with The Corner Office. “As we continue to grow, our financial needs will continue to grow. And we’re excited about the continued collaboration between our company and The Corner Office to establish strong accounting and financial foundations as we head into the future.”
If Zach Maurer’s story has inspired you, please comment below, and visit Prairie Lithium’s website at www.prairielithium.ca/.