The first stage of the trial at ANSTO’s minerals piloting facility in NSW produced a lithium pregnant liquor from lepidolite feed.
Stage II, which begins next week, will process the liquor to produce lithium chemicals.
Managing director Adrian Griffin said, “We are extremely pleased with the outcome of the first stage of the two-stage SiLeach® pilot plant trial at ANSTO Minerals.”
Shares are up more than 8% to 10.5 cents.
The concentrate used as feed for the trial was prepared in Perth, under the supervision of Independent Metallurgical Operations Pty Ltd and consisted of lepidolite recovered from mine waste.
During stage I, the plant operated in continuous mode for five days in August, processing lepidolite concentrate at around 4 kilograms per hour through leach, pre-neutralisation and impurity removal stages.
Results exceed target
Preliminary data indicate that lithium extraction in the leach circuit peaked at 97.5% and averaged 94% for the duration of the trial.
Leach results exceeded target supporting the opportunity for concentrate grind size and reagent optimisation during design of the proposed large-scale pilot plant (LSPP).
Run in an integrated manner, the trial demonstrated continuous operation of Lithium Australia’s proprietary SiLeach® process, including full recycle of intermediate process streams.
All unit processes operated robustly, with minimal stoppages and practical solid/liquid separation was achieved for all circuits tested.
Samples provided to vendors
Samples were provided to multiple vendors in order to complete solid/liquid separation test work.
This will also confirm equipment selection and sizing and support a cost estimation for the SiLeach® LSPP front end engineering and design (FEED) study being conducted by CPC Project Design Pty Ltd.
Operation of the multi-stage impurity removal circuit confirmed the rejection of aluminium fluoride (AlF3) in the first stage and encouraged further investigation into the feasibility of recovering an AlF3 by-product from this residue.
AlF3, an important additive in the production of aluminium by electrolysis, has recently gained immense traction in the global market, due to its beneficial properties and broad range of applications.
Indeed, the AlF market is projected to expand at a CAGR of 4.6% in the period from 2018 to 2028.
The lithium-rich liquor produced during stage I met purity targets and will be processed through to lithium chemicals in stage II.
At that stage, calcium and fluorine will be removed and a lithium phosphate produced as a final product.
Subsequently, a sub-sample of that product will be further processed at VSPC Ltd, a wholly-owned LIT subsidiary, to create cathode material for use in the production of lithium-ion batteries.
VSPC will make samples of that material available for testing by potential offtake partners.
Aim to produce lithium-ion battery
Griffin said: “We anticipate that stage II will result in the production of a lithium chemical from waste material sourced near Kalgoorlie.
“We will then apply VSPC’s proprietary process to that lithium chemical and, ultimately, produce a lithium-ion battery: a world first.”
Lithium Australia will also investigate converting SiLeach®-produced lithium phosphate to a lithium hydroxide product.
The company is also assessing the implications of the Federal Government’s policy change in capping its Research and Development rebate scheme, a move with the potential to negatively affect the new energy metals processing industry proposed for Western Australia.
LIT is considering relocating its successful R&D activities elsewhere – perhaps Germany, which has a target date for the demise of internal combustion engines and is facilitating that through attractive R&D financial support.
Griffin said the company’s work would continue “whether the Australian Federal Government chooses to back the Lithium Valley concept or just ignore it”.
He added: “The official recommissioning of VSPC’s Brisbane cathode powder pilot plant occurred yesterday, with an opening ceremony to celebrate the occasion.”