The plant is aimed at demonstrating the SiLeach® process to extract lithium and by-products at commercial scale from lithium micas.
Front-end engineering and design (FEED) activities are progressing as planned and are scheduled for completion in the September quarter of 2018.
Detailed metallurgical test work is demonstrating improved lithium recovery.
This work is further enhancing the SiLeach® flowsheet and the potential to produce high-quality fertiliser as a by-product is enhancing project economics.
Managing director Adrian Griffin said: “The FEED study is advancing well and the improvements in lithium recovery are very encouraging.
“We’re pleased with the increase in confidence around by-product recovery, which is an important aspect of the SiLeach® revenue stream.
“We believe it will allow us to produce lithium chemicals from minerals but at the same low unit cost as that of the brine producers.”
No roasting required
The SiLeach® process is a halide-accelerated, sulphuric acid digestion system, operated at atmospheric pressure.
No roasting is required, significantly reducing the energy footprint when compared with conventional lithium extraction technology.
The process also benefits from a range of potential by-product credits.
Study shows SiLeach benefits
Lithium Australia is building the large-scale pilot plant (LSPP) after a preliminary feasibility study demonstrated the ability of the process to recover lithium chemicals and valuable by-products.
In many instances, lithium micas previously recovered during mining activities have been consigned to tailings dams and mine dumps as waste, due to a lack of metallurgical processing technology.
SiLeach® has the potential to unlock these resources economically.
Plant construction a key step
Construction of the LSPP is a key step in proving SiLeach® at a commercial scale.
Flotation test work on samples of lepidolite.
At full production SiLeach® will facilitate the production of high-quality lithium chemicals from abundant non-brine mineral resources at a cost similar to those of brine producers.
This will be done without the environmental risks associated with conventional roasting or large evaporation ponds.
Planning is underway for a laboratory-scale pilot trial at ANSTO Minerals of the anticipated LSPP feed composition, using concentrates generated from the target sources.
Intended to confirm final flowsheet selection and impurity removal unit processes, the trial should further reduce the risk profile of the LSPP and augment existing bench-scale test work results.
The laboratory-scale trial will generate enough lithium chemicals to provide product samples for potential offtake partners, those samples being representative of the commercial product.
Griffin said: "Preliminary discussions with potential offtake partners have been encouraging.
“Our planned laboratory-scale pilot run, while aimed primarily at finalising the flowsheet for construction, will generate significant amounts of lithium chemical product for testing by potential offtake partners.”