Lithium extraction tech moves to pilot in $4.5m deal

Brandon How

Processing technology developed by ANSTO and Lithium Australia to extract lithium from mine waste is one step closer to commercialisation after Perth-based mining company Mineral Resources committed $4.5 million to a pilot plant.

Mineral Resources (MinRes) will develop and operate the plant, which will also supply the raw materials at no cost to Perth-based Lithium Australia. MinRes will also fund an engineering study for the development of a demonstration plant. understands that ANSTO will remain involved with the development of the LieNA extraction technology and will host the pilot plant at an ANSTO facility in New South Wales.

The two ASX-listed firms will form a 50:50 joint venture to wholly own and commercialise LieNA if the pilot plant is successful. The joint venture will then licence the use of LieNA at a target headline gross product royalty rate of eight per cent.

The first licence will be made to MinRes to extract lithium salt at a commercial scale at its demonstration plant.

Australia currently produces around half of the world’s lithium, a key input to battery production particularly for use in electric vehicles.

Wodinga lithium hydroxide plant jointly operated by MinRes and the ALbemarle Corporation. Image: MinRes

LieNA was patented by Lithium Australia after being developed in collaboration with scientists at ANSTO. Lithium Australia expects the technology to boost lithium “extraction yields by up to 50 per cent over current market performance”.

The technology enables the extraction of ‘fine’ and ‘low-grade’ spodumene, which was previously disposed of in waste streams.

In June 2022, ANSTO senior process chemist Dr Chris Griffith said that prior the development of LieNA “it has been quite accepted by industry that a large amount of lithium is ‘lost’ during processing. We’re the first in the world to achieve such an efficient level of extraction,” Dr Griffith said.

Lithium Australia worked with the national nuclear science agency have worked on processing technology development since 2015, with a $1.3 million grant awarded through the federal government’s CRC-P program to develop in early 2020 to advance the feasibility study stage on LieNA.

Lithium Australia chief executive Simon Linge said the company is thrilled to partner with one of Australia’s largest mining companies.

“MinRes is the perfect partner to complement our leading lithium extraction technology, given its extensive owned operations and strategic movement downstream into the battery materials sector,” Mr Linge said.

“Securing a development partner is also noted as a significant step within Lithium Australia’s recently released roadmap and serves as a powerful validation of our patented technology. We are excited by the future opportunity to licence our proven high-value technology to all existing and new lithium mines across Australia and the rest of the world.”

An Atlas of Australian Mine Waste was released by Geoscience Australia at the end of May. It is the result of collaboration between RMIT University, the University of Queensland, and state and territory geological surveys.

The atlas identified 1,050 mine waste sites which could be potential sources of critical minerals. Of these, all 16 lithium mine waste sites include in the Atlas are in Western Australia. will host a Capability Papers forum focused on Manufacturing and Energy Transition at the Museum of Sydney on August 15. Join industry and research leaders, together with state and federal ministers for this important discussion by reserving you seat here

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