Sileach emerges as game changer for Lithium Australia

Published at Oct 4, 2016, in Mining

Lithium Australia’s (ASX: LIT) announcement on Tuesday morning that it had successfully completed a pilot plant testing program at ANSTO Minerals’ Lucas Heights testing facility is a significant development for the company.

ANSTO Minerals is a division of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation. The testing program was flagged in March when the Australian Federal Government provided the Perth-based group with a grant to progress its proprietary Sileach process for recovering metals, lithium in particular, from silicate minerals.

It is important to examine the impact this development had when the grant was approved in order to understand the significance of today’s announcement. As analysts and investors gained an appreciation of the potential income that could flow from successfully developing an efficient recovery process, the company’s shares doubled in the ensuing month.

Today’s announcement touches on several important aspects of the program. A continuous pilot plant feed was undertaken between September 12 and September 17 inclusive, treating ore from Lepidolite Hill in Western Australia using LIT’s halogen based Sileach process.

Approximately 650 kilograms of lepidolite ore was processed at an average throughput of 6 kilograms per hour. The pilot plant itself consists of leaching and impurity removal circuits and had been designed on similar ore to that processed during the pilot plant run.

Having produced a purified lithium containing liquor, devoid of impurities, the purified liquor will be processed through to high purity lithium carbonate in a second pilot campaign in the near future.

Importantly, extraction of lithium in the Sileach process exceeded 95% in the leach circuit, validating both the overall extraction and accelerated rate of extraction of lithium achieved in the laboratory test program.

LIT’s Managing Director, Adrian Griffin, was upbeat about the results saying, “The results show that exceptional lithium extractions can be achieved without the need for fine grinding, or the production of clean concentrates, and it is also important to note that the material processed was not subjected to pre-concentration, but still achieved outstanding performance with minimal feed preparation”.

In short, this means that LIT can assist in cutting costs, as well as maximising production by treating ore that may previously not have been commercially viable.

A move towards commercialisation now that testing is complete is still some way off, so if considering this stock for your portfolio seek professional financial advice.

The next step will be to process low-grade spodumene concentrates (about 4.5% Li2O) from Pilbara Minerals’ Pilgangoora project, with the trial intentionally focused on lower grade products where no other process can recover lithium at commercially viable costs.

This will be the first step of LIT’s commercialisation agreement with Pilbara Minerals, and if successful will be the foundation for the establishment of a lithium chemical processing plant in Port Hedland, which is in close proximity to the Pilgangoora project.

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