Coal miner pivots to lithium after 40 years


Brandon How
Reporter

Coal miner Idemitsu Australia has announced plans to invest in lithium mining, leveraging the experience its Japan-based parent company Idemitsu Kosan in renewable energy technologies.

The company is eyeing exploration tenements in Western Australia and the Northern Territory, but is also looking to partner on existing and planned lithium projects. Over the past two years Idemitsu Australia has increased internal resources directed at assessing critical mineral opportunities.

lithium
Idemitsu Australia is looking to invest in lithium mining after 40 years of digging up coal

After completing the tenement stage, the firm anticipates it would take around five further years to build an operational mine.

Idemitsu Australia chief executive officer Steve Kovac said it was time for the business to tap into the growing market for battery critical minerals.

“Fast growing demand for rechargeable lithium batteries is fueling the race for critical minerals but the next major challenge will be steering some exciting lithium developments from exploration, project evaluation into production and export to realise their full potential,” Mr Kovac said.

“Idemitsu is in a unique position in that we can provide access to future debt financing, more than a century of expertise in resources development and delivering energy solutions globally, and access to leading edge battery materials R&D.

“The pivot to lithium complements the lithium-ion battery research capabilities and renewable energy projects of Japanese parent company Idemitsu Kosan. Although Idemitsu Kosan’s main business is in oil refining. Mr Kovac said Idemitsu Australia hopes to leverage on their Japanese counterparts to “accelerate development of an Australian lithium project.”

Tokyo-based Idemitsu Kosan has more than 500 international patents on lithium-based electrolytes and research improvements on solid electrolytes for lithium batteries. Other areas of research include mass production and lithium recovery technology.

For 40 years Idemitsu Australia – previously Idemitsu Muswellbrook Coal Company – has mined coal at sites in Queensland and New South Wales. The firm has an annual coal output of 14 million tonnes a year and employs 1,000 people locally.

Since the establishment of IA subsidiary Idemitsu Renewable Developments Australia (IRDA) in 2019, several concepts studies to be undertaken for solar, wind, and battery hybrid developments in Queensland and New South Wales.

Two projects have reached advanced feasibility study stages. The first is in partnership with AGL to convert a mine pit at Muswellbrook, NSW into a 250MW pumped-hydro energy storage project. The other is a supporting role for IRDA at a hydrogen hub being developed by the Port of Newcastle in NSW and Macquarie Groups’s Green Investment Group.

These projects will support Idemitsu Group’s target of reducing carbon dioxide emission by 4 million tons and producing 4GW of renewable energy by 2030, with carbon neutrality a target for 2050. In 2019, the group emitted around 12 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. The multinational also has an annual revenue of $70 billion.

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