Wesfarmers has secured ground for a new lithium refinery in southern Perth as part of its joint venture to control the full value chain of lithium hydroxide, a chemical compound used in electric vehicle and renewable energy batteries.
Under a $1.8 billion joint venture with Chilean mining company Sociedad Química y Minera (SQM) known as Covalent Lithium, the Australian conglomerate is also constructing a spodumene mine and concentrator near Mount Holland to supply the new refinery.
The refinery will be located in the Kwinana ‘Strategic Industrial Area’ in south-western Perth, after Covalent Lithium secured a long-term lease for a 40-hectare site.
It is expected to begin production in 2024 and eventually produce around 45,000 tonnes of battery-grade lithium hydroxide each year, enough to support the production of batteries for up to one million electric vehicles.
Australia and Chile mine nearly 80 per cent of the raw materials in global battery production value chains, but do almost no refinement or production of active materials, according to research by Accenture.
The research, from June this year, found Australia could add $7.4 billion and 34,000 jobs to the economy by 2030 with a more diversified approach to battery value chains as global demand booms. National security researchers have also called for a more strategic approach to battery supply chains, warning China – which controls most of the mid-stream – may weaponise its control for economic and political gain.
The Western Australia government last year updated its Future Battery Industry Strategy, providing a framework for the state’s battery industry to be more value adding, sustainable and job creating.
The state government is developing 13 Strategic Industrial Areas (SIA), including Kwinana, where the new refinery will be, to connect downstream processing facilities with major resource projects and key infrastructure.
The Kwinana SIA location means the refinery will be part of the state’s heavy industrial zone and close to the Fremantle Port and major road and rail networks.
“The Kwinana SIA plays a vital role in supporting Western Australia’s economy as it is a key part of the State’s premier heavy industrial corridor. The Kwinana SIA is already home to major chemical, energy and resource-based processing operations,” said State Development, Jobs and Trade Minister Roger Cook.
“The investment by Covalent Lithium reinforces the importance of the Government’s commitment to establishing a globally advanced manufacturing hub for the industrial corridor between Henderson and Rockingham.”
The Mt Holland lithium project is planned to commence production of lithium hydroxide in the second half of 2024. The state government expects the entire project to create 1,000 construction and 350 operational jobs across the mine, concentrator and refinery.
Covalent Lithium’s refinery is one of three lithium refineries under construction in Western Australia.
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