Lithium Australia is set to become a producer of battery grade lithium chemicals and, in the process, establish its breakthrough SiLeach technology as the way of the future for the downstream lithium industry around the globe. The company has committed to build a large-scale pilot plant producing 2,500 tonnes of lithium carbonate per annum, with a view to ramping up to 10 times that production.
Lithium Australia is well on its way towards disrupting the global lithium industry with a decision now made to build an industrial-scale lithium processing plant based on its breakthrough SiLeach lithium processing technology.
Sileach is a chemical based process that converts lithium concentrate into battery minerals such as lithium carbonate without the need for expensive, energy hungry roasting which has traditionally been the case.
Eliminating the costly roasting stage has the potential to make some lower grade, sub-economic deposits profitable, potentially opening up a world of opportunities for Lithium Australia in the fast moving lithium space.
In a highly anticipated announcement this week, Lithium Australia said it had taken the leap and committed to building its first large-scale pilot plant, capable of producing 2,500 tonnes of lithium carbonate per annum.
Front end engineering and design studies have been approved and the company will procure long-lead time items to fast-track commissioning and production, which is scheduled for early 2021.
The company said the plant was a necessary step in commercialising SiLeach, with results to be used to evaluate and design a full-scale plant with 10 times the capacity of the pilot plant.
Annual production of lithium carbonate will require about 27,500 tonnes of low-grade lepidolite mica feedstock, which is currently regarded as a waste product by the lithium processing industry.
A preliminary feasibility study released last July found the plant was expected to be cash-flow positive, even at the proposed pilot scale and even before a raft of mineral by-product credits are taken into account.
Lithium Australia’s PFS showed a US$42 million capital cost for the plant and whilst there was no update on that figure this week, Lithium Australia said capital cost reductions had been achieved from a step-change improvement in water management.
The company also said innovative process steps had been developed to capitalise on the co-production of potassium sulphate, which the PFS identified as a critical step in optimising returns.
Lithium Australia's managing director, Adrian Griffin, said: “Our commitment to advancing the SiLeach process to an industrial scale is a critical element in the research and development required to bring a superior process into the lithium industry. Success will allow us to utilise mine waste in the production of lithium chemicals, one of our great sustainability goals.”
The company said it expected to finalise selection the site for the LSPP, along with agreements for infrastructure, reagent supplies and process feed material, by the end of March.
If Lithium Australia can get the pilot plant working adequately, they will quite likely create something of a mini gold rush in the lithium sector as they get knocked over in the rush by sub-economic lithium project owners.
The preliminary feasibility study was based on a site in Malaysia, which offered the lowest capex and operating costs of a number of different options.
The latest milestone caps a highly successful, three-year period of research and development by the Australian Nuclear Science Technology Organization who have been contracted by Lithium Australia to stress test the technology.