Construction of ASX-listed Lithium Australia’s planned pilot plant showcasing and testing its proprietary “LieNa” fine-spodumene conversion process has begun. Development of the pilot plant, a major component of the Perth-based company’s $3.6 million LieNA lithium recovery technology research and development program, was hampered last year by travel restrictions that came courtesy of COVID-19.
Construction of ASX-listed Lithium Australia’s planned pilot plant showcasing and testing its proprietary LieNa fine-spodumene conversion process has begun. Development of the pilot plant, a major component of the Perth-based company’s $3.6 million LieNA lithium recovery technology research and development program, was hampered last year by travel restrictions that came courtesy of COVID-19.
Together with the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, or “ANSTO”, Lithium Australia has been researching and developing its proprietary technology for the recovery of lithium from spodumene ore, the most common hard-rock source of lithium for the production of critical battery chemicals.
The company says the pilot plant, part of the Federal Government’s Co-operative Research Centre Projects Grants scheme, will treat concentrate feed from spodumene-bearing drill chips. An initial pilot-plant test run has been slated to take place in September this year.
Lithium Australia Managing Director, Adrian Griffin said: “Lithium Australia’s LieNA technology is the pinnacle for hydrometallurgical processing of spodumene, the principal hard-rock source of lithium. LieNA is capable of recovering lithium from fine and or contaminated spodumene that fails to meet the feed specifications of current converters. It also provides the highest levels of impurity rejection. It is these characteristics that set it apart. LieNA … is designed to improve overall recovery and achieve better utilisation of existing resources.”
Lithium Australia describes LieNA as a “caustic conversion technology” with strong parallels to the production of alumina from bauxite. The digestion process, undertaken in sodium hydroxide at elevated temperatures and pressures, culminates in a product from which lithium is readily acid leached.
LieNA can produce a range of lithium chemicals, including hydroxide, carbonate and phosphate, with lithium phosphate the preferred product, the company says, due to it being easier to refine and commanding a price premium over hydroxide and carbonate.
It is also an ideal precursor to the production of lithium ferro phosphate batteries, management says.
The LieNA process, according to Lithium Australia, requires no energy-hungry and expensive “roasting” and is capable of handling very fine spodumene particles.
In addition, it exhibits superior impurity rejection during the lithium recovery process, which helps to reduce mining costs.
The ability to process fine and or contaminated spodumene efficiently potentially deals with an area of traditionally low lithium recovery leading to a turbocharged set of economics, the company says.
Lithium Australia and ANSTO have already completed bench-scale test work on the LieNA technology that returned a lithium concentrate recovery rate of more than 85 per cent.
Design, construction and operation of the pilot plant at ANSTO’s Lucas Heights facilities in NSW accounts for more than half the cost of the company’s total $3.6 million research and development program for the recovery of lithium from spodumene using the LieNA technology.
ANSTO will fabricate and operate the LieNA pilot plant, with Murdoch University, Curtin University and Carnac Project Delivery Services also contributing to the project.
Key objectives of the pilot plant trial include the assessment of the veracity of the LieNA process and the evaluation of the quality of the lithium chemicals produced.
It is also designed to establish performance criteria for further design studies and provide the required inputs for a pre-feasibility study on LieNA.
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