Neometals have kicked off a big month of news by announcing plans to fast-track planning for a downstream lithium processing plant near their soon-to-be commissioned Mt Marion mine. This month is also expected to see the shipping of the first lithium concentrates, and news of yet another resource upgrade following spectacular drill results in August.
Neometals and its Australian partner in the soon-to-be commissioned Mt Marion lithium mine are fast-tracking plans for a downstream chemical processing plant with the potential to dramatically boost their returns by selling battery grade Lithium Hydroxide and Lithium Carbonate into the burgeoning global battery market.
The Perth-based company and its partner, the Chris Ellison controlled Mineral Resources, which owns 43.1% of Mt Marion, have made no secret of their desire to go beyond being co-owners of one of the world’s largest lithium mines.
The partners are keen to boost their returns by building a downstream processing plant near Mt Marion that would convert concentrate into value-added chemicals for sale directly to lithium-ion battery producers.
Neometals and Mineral Resources last week ramped up their plans by announcing they had signed a memorandum of understanding or “MOU” to immediately begin front end engineering and design on the downstream plant, with a final investment decision expected by the third quarter of 2017.
The assessment timeline has been reduced significantly by the partners’ decision to design the plant with a conventional sulphate/caustic soda process that has been used for some time by their third partner in the Mt Marion project, Chinese Lithium heavyweight Ganfeng Lithium.
Ganfeng has committed to take 100% of project concentrates for at least the first three years and has already established the suitability of Mt Marion concentrates for conventional downstream processing. This certainty has eliminated the need for Neometals and Mineral Resources to build a pilot plant for their own downstream plant in Australia.
Neometals and Mineral Resources will continue however to advance the development of their own proprietary “Eli” lithium processing technology, with a focus on its application to traditional salar brines rather than spodumene/hard rock sources of lithium.
Utilizing a tried and tested method for the Mt Marion off-take however will allow the partners to fast track the building of a downstream processing plant which could be even more lucrative than the actual mine itself.
Neometals and Mineral Resources will jointly assess the feasibility of a downstream plant with an annual production capacity of 20,000 to 25,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate equivalent production.
The greatest impediment to building a downstream processing plant is always the supply of product and the proximity of the source to the downstream plant.
Neometals and Mineral Resources are in an exquisite position in this regard as they have negotiated with their Chinese partner to claw back 51% of total spodumene production from Mt Marian from around 2020.
Managing director of Neometals, Chris Reed, said “A lithium chemical plant located in the Eastern Goldfields would bring huge benefits to both the Mt Marion project, the local Goldfields community and the state of Western Australia.
“With the transition of Mt Marion to production, we are now confident that a downstream lithium processing plant located nearby to Mt Marion will deliver superior economic outcomes for the JV partners with the added benefit of bringing new employment opportunities to the Goldfields.”
Last week’s news is the start of a big month for Neometals that is expected to include the shipment of the first concentrates from Mt Marion and the news of yet another resources upgrade following spectacular drill results that were released to the market in August.