Lithium Australia and Pilbara Minerals Join Forces

Published at Jun 28, 2016, in Mining

Lithium Australia (ASX:LIT) and the $595 million capped Pilbara Minerals (ASX:PLS) have agreed to establish a joint venture. The JV is subject to a series of feasibility studies and testwork programs and will investigate the suitability of LIT’s SileachTM process to produce high-value lithium carbonate.

Known as the SJV, the partnership will be a 50/50 collaboration that tests concentrates sourced from Pilbara’s Pilgangoora Project.

SJV’s goal is to be a lowest quartile lithium carbonate producer by commercialising the SileachTM process and investigating the viability of jointly developing a lithium conversion facility.

The facility would potentially source spodumene concentrate from Pilbara’s 100%-owned Pilgangoora Lithium-Tantalum Project.

This could then be used to process feed from other Pilbara lithium mineral producers by agreement of the joint venture partners.

LIT Managing director, Mr Adrian Griffin says, “The agreement with Pilbara Minerals is a very important step towards Lithium Australia’s goal of becoming a lowest cost quartile lithium carbonate producer.

“Successfully combining PLS’ Pilgangoora spodumene concentrates with the low-energy Sileach process has the potential to add enormous value to both parties and may allow the SJV to deal directly with lithium chemical consumers, including the battery manufacturers.

“This is a great deal for LIT, PLS and for Western Australia’s burgeoning lithium processing industry.”

The agreement between LIT and follows successful lithium extraction from spodumene by ANSTO Minerals (a division of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation) in which lithium extractions of greater than 90% were achieved in as little as four hours.

The SJV will see LIT cover the cost of pilot testing, while PLS supplied the spodumene for testing. Operational costs will be split 50/50.

Unlike conventional lithium recovery from spodumene, the SileachTM process does not require roasting, resulting in a much more energy efficient process and potential to compete with the world’s lowest cost producers.

Lithium’s path to commercialisation

The SileachTM process has been successfully tested in the course of bench testing at a number of laboratories.

Most recently testing of concentrates from Pilgangoora, and other spodumene sources, have provided sufficient knowledge to consider pilot testing at the ANSTO Minerals facility in New South Wales.

Testing will start shortly and is the second step in the SJV’s attempt to de-risk the path to commercial production.

Lithium Australia has a clear path to commercial production

Should testing at ANSTO Minerals be successful, the SJV may then decide to start construction of a larger-scale pilot plant, with the ability to recover costs through the production of commercial lithium chemicals and by-products.

Operation of the larger-scale pilot facility will be a milestone step in commercialisation of the SileachTM process, and will be used do demonstrate the viability of the process for funding purposes.

Definitive Feasibility Study

Data generated from operating the large-scale pilot plant will be used to complete engineering design and feasibility investigations for the construction of a full-scale commercial SileachTM processing plant. The Feasibility Study will be managed by LIT.

Commercial SileachTM processing plant

In the event of a positive outcome of the Definitive Feasibility Study, the SJV will advance to commercial production, including finance and construction, on a 50/50 basis. The key terms of this joint venture will include:

  • LIT will be the first manager of the SJV;
  • PLS to provide feed to the SJV on a priority basis

The successful development of a commercial hydrometallurgical process to recover lithium from spodumene would place the SJV at the leading edge of the lithium industry, by providing the potential to be much more energy efficient. Reduction of energy consumption, together with the potential to recover valuable by-product credits, may provide cost efficiencies which were not previously possible.

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