Lithium Australia (ASX: LIT) has been eyeing off lithium fields in the eastern goldfields of Western Australia as potential feed sources for a large-scale pilot plant to recycle lithium waste.
The disruptive technology developer is currently conducting a front-end engineering design (FEED) study to pilot test lithium mica concentrates from these fields, as well as deposits in France and Germany.
The study is being undertaken as a collaborative effort with CPC Project Design and ANSTO Minerals (a division of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation) and is expected to be completed during the current September 2018 quarter.
WA is now considered the world’s largest lithium producer, with the state’s mineral fields hosting abundant pegmatites, many of which contain lithium micas.
During conventional processing, lithium is recovered from spodumene concentrates, with lithium micas being largely considered a waste product in the mining industry.
However, Lithium Australia has developed its proprietary SiLeach extraction technology, which it claims can convert this waste material into battery-grade lithium.
“We believe our processing technology with lithium mica material can be commercially competitive to that of a hard rock spodumene producer,” Lithium Australia managing director Adrian Griffin told Small Caps.
In addition, he said the technology allowed for another potential revenue stream by unlocking the valuable by-products from the lithium mica material.
This is because the SiLeach technology works by “efficiently digesting and recovering all significant metal values from the minerals treated”.
According to Lithium Australia, it is a hydrometallurgical process that is also less energy-intensive than conventional processing, as no roasting phase is required.
Reporting to the market today, Lithium Australia said substantial bench-scale and pilot plant trial test work had been undertaken on the company’s 80%-owned Lepidolite Hill deposit, located within the Coolgardie rare metals venture in WA’s southern goldfields region. Lithium Australia has an 80% interest in the venture with Focus Minerals (ASX: FML) holding the remaining 20% stake.
In addition, some test work has been undertaken at a second deposit named Waste2. While “far less” work has been conducted at this deposit, laboratory tests have shown the metallurgical characteristics of concentrates produced from Waste2 vary from other tested micas due to a higher ratio of muscovite (a common mica devoid of lithium) and lepidolite (a common lithium-rich mica).
The Waste2 concentrates will be tested in a purpose-built SiLeach pilot plant located in ANSTO Minerals’ facilities at Lucas Heights in NSW. According to Lithium Australia, this test run is scheduled to begin in early August.
The aim of the pilot plant run is to produce lithium products to commercial specifications, with the data acquired during the test run being used to finalise FEED design criteria.
“Lithium Australia continues its war on waste,” Mr Griffin said.
“In processing the Waste2 material, we will clearly demonstrate that we can take the particular waste provided, run it through the SiLeach pilot plant and create a commercial lithium chemical.”
However, he said this was only the second step in ascending the value chain. Subsequently, the lithium chemical will be sent from Lucas Heights to Lithium Australia’s VSPC plant in Brisbane, Queensland for processing into battery cathode material.
“The cathode material will then be tested at VSPC’s in-house battery testing facility,” Mr Griffin explained.
He said the company anticipated reporting on the cathode powder’s performance with respect to battery applications in the “coming months”.