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Sileach plant potentially profitable even at pilot stage

Lithium Australia’s breakthrough Sileach technology for Lithium processing has taken a giant leap towards commercialisation with the release of very positive results from an engineering study. A study by CPC Project Design found a large-scale pilot plant in Malaysia costing $US42 million could be cash positive, even before by-product credits. Lithium Australia is targeting a final investment decision before the end of the year.

Lithium Australia’s engineering study on the breakthrough Sileach process has exceeded all expectations and put the company on track to give the nod to a US$42 million large-scale pilot plant by the end of the year.

In a release to the ASX on Wednesday, the company reported that an engineering study by CPC Project Design found a large-scale pilot plant producing 2,500 tonnes of Lithium Carbonate per annum could be cash positive, without factoring in any by-product credits.

Lithium Australia Managing Director, Adrian Griffin, said: “The LSPP study outcomes are encouraging. They show that a SiLeach large scale pilot plant can be potentially profitable – and this without considering by-product credits or further optimisation.

“This was not the primary aim of the study – we would have been happy with break-even at this scale and stage of the commercialisation program – but we now have additional confidence in pursuing a LSPP as the study outcomes are based on successful pilot-scale test work at one of Australia’s premier mineral research institutions.”

Lithium Australia’s 100%-owned Sileach process eliminates the very expensive and energy hungry roasting step in conventional Lithium processing, dramatically slashing the cost of production.

The system separates and concentrates Lithium from its host ore using chemicals only.

Importantly, trials have also shown Sileach is highly effective at recovering Lithium from mica minerals, mainly Lepidolite. According to management there is currently no suitable mineral extraction technology for Lithium micas in commercial operation, which means they are piling up in waste dumps at mining operations around the world.

The CPC study compared the costs of a large-scale pilot plant in a number of countries. Malaysia was found to have the lowest capital and operating cost of just US$9,200 per tonne of Lithium carbonate. This was well below the study’s break-even operating cost target of US$10,000 per tonne and does not include any by-product credits which may also be generated. CPC’s costings were based on the results of continuous pilot plant tests conducted by the Federal Government’s ANSTO Minerals, a division of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation.

The potential for by-product credits is currently undergoing testing at Murdoch University with the support of a grant from the WA government.

Lithium Australia also stressed there was potential to make further significant improvements to capital and operating costs, particularly through improved water management.

The company said in their ASX statement that the process optimisations identified during the study should lead to Lithium Australia committing to a large-scale pilot plant with far greater commercial returns than presently demonstrated.

Over the next few months, Lithium Australia will be racing to finish work on by-products and process improvements, while pursuing opportunities to secure low-cost Lithium mica feedstock.

The company has set an end-of-year target for a final investment decision, which would represent a significant milestone for a technology that promises to transform the global Lithium market.

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