30/01/2018 - 12:40

Lithium value-add industry can stand on market merit

30/01/2018 - 12:40

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The global lithium supply chain will be worth more than $1 trillion in 10 years' time, if an analysis written for the Association of Mining & Exploration Companies pans out, with Western Australia well placed to grab a share.

The Greenbushes mine in the South West of WA is the world's largest lithium producer.

The global lithium supply chain will be worth more than $1 trillion in 10 years' time, if an analysis written for the Association of Mining & Exploration Companies pans out, with Western Australia well placed to grab a share.

The AMEC figure is based on an anticipated eight-fold growth in lithium usage, driven by uptake of batteries in electric cars, in distributed storage, and smart devices, according to Future Smart Strategies managing director and report author Ray Wills.

Mr Wills estimated the total market for lithium products, including assembly of batteries, would be valued at around $US1.3 trillion by 2025.

Australia’s share of the mining and concentration part of the supply chain was about half, he said, while China dominated refining, processing and electrochemical work.

But latter parts of the value chain, such as cell production and assembly, were dominated by developed countries, such as Japan, South Korea and the US, because they required technical skills.

That implied WA, despite being a high-cost jurisdiction, would be able to compete in this space

Capacity for processing, which is earlier in the value chain, is already being developed in WA, led by the under-construction Tianqi Lithium plant in Kwinana, while Albemarle and other players have expressed an interest in developing factories elsewhere in the state.

Notably, most of the inputs used in lithium processing are already available in Australia without a need to import, the report found.

The report called for the use of state agreements to attract investment in the sector, and clarification of planning and state development policy for related sectors such as cathode construction.

Research funding through universities and the CSIRO would be key, it said.

One of the report's recommendations called for lithium processing plants to be co-funded through the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility.

Mines and Petroleum Minister Bill Johnston said he was confident WA could attract foreign investment into lithium processing and battery making capacity because of the state’s skilled workforce, policy stability and dominance in mining the metal.

The state could be internationally competitive in lithium value adding without government support, Mr Johnston said

One encouraging factor for development of a local lithium industry was that more than 50 per cent of the world’s lithium supply was mined here, he said.

Mr Johnston also touted the state’s skilled workforce, which could solve major technical problems in the mining industry.

An example of that was the usage of autonomous trucks in Pilbara iron ore production, where he said some of the big problems that car companies are now experiencing in autonomous vehicle development had already been solved.

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