Lithium Australia (ASX: LIT) has confirmed it has received a Notice of Acceptance from federal government body IP Australia for its revolutionary LieNA® technology patent application for the production of battery chemicals.
Patent application PCT/AU2017/050808 details the first version of the caustic digestion process for the extracting and recovering lithium values from a lithium-bearing material and in particular, from lithium-bearing silicates such as spodumene and lepidolite.
The process is based on the pressure alkaline leach of a slurry using an autoclave, with the lithium recovered as a lithium carbonate.
Lithium Australia has also received notification from the International Bureau of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) that its patent application for the second generation LieNA® process technology, which incorporates lithium phosphate improvements announced last month, has been published.
Patent application PCT/AU2019/050773 details Lithium Australia’s process for extracting lithium from an uncalcined lithium-bearing silicate and recovery as a lithium phosphate.
It is based on the pressure alkaline leach of a slurry using an autoclave, with the lithium-rich sodalite subject to an acid leach as well as impurity removal unit processes which are also trademarked by Lithium Australia as LieNA®.
The lithium phosphate improvements were considered a “significant” fourth step in the seven-step process for locking-in granted patents, which can take several years to achieve.
Positive next step
IP Australia is an agency of the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science and manages and grants patent applications in Australia.
WIPO administers the filing of international patent applications, which provide preliminary patent protection in more than 150 jurisdictions including the United States, Europe, and Australia.
The seven-step process for the granting of patents within the jurisdictions elected by Lithium Australia can take several years to achieve.
Managing director Adrian Griffin said receipt of the notice was vindication of the value of its intellectual property.
“[This signifies] a positive next step towards granting of a patent for the LieNA® process,” he said.
“Based on normal approval timing, [we] expect the patent to be granted by end of the second quarter, with legal protection for lasting 20 years from the date of filing of the application.”
Research and development
Together with the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), Lithium Australia has been continuing research and development of LieNA® technology for the recovery of lithium from spodumene – the most common hard-rock source of lithium for the production of critical battery chemicals.
While the recovery rate of lithium from conventional spodumene beneficiation varies, the company said it can be as low as 50% owing to concentrate offtake specification constraints applied by thermal convertors.
LieNA® technology – which importantly does not require a roasting stage – can recover lithium from the fine spodumene which otherwise reports to waste or tailings streams during current concentration processes.
Being able to utilise this spodumene allows the technology the potential to expand current hard-rock lithium resources, thereby reducing mining costs and enhancing the sustainability of spodumene production and subsequent manufacture of lithium chemicals.
Mr Griffin said LieNA® technology offers Lithium Australia a unique opportunity to process fine spodumene which would otherwise never enter the supply chain.
“Processing such material can reduce the environmental impact of hard-rock lithium mining and improve sustainability with no additional mining costs or footprint,” he said.
“Importantly, the application of LieNA® could change the economics of spodumene production and provide a means of producing lithium-ion batteries which includes fewer processing steps and better quality control.”