The Technology and Low Emission Minerals Conference in Perth this week showcased the breadth of Australian companies advancing battery metal and clean energy projects.
The conference featured emerging and established companies focused on lithium, graphite, vanadium, cobalt, manganese, magnesium, rare earths and other minerals associated with clean energy and battery components.
A running theme over the two-day conference was how battery mineral markets, as well as uranium and other clean energy commodities, will be impacted by renewable energy targets and expanding climate change policy.
Focus was also given to Western Australia’s potential role as a global hub for the supply and production of battery metals and components.
READ: Technology and Low Emission Minerals Conference hears WA ready to leverage battery power revolution
Its 4,500 tonnes per annum plant forms an important part of an integrated HPA strategy which incorporates kaolin clay sourced from the company’s kaolin deposit at Meckering, Western Australia.
The production process will employ conventional off-the-shelf plant and equipment to extract HPA using a hydrochloric acid-based process.
Altech began planning construction of its Malaysia-based HPA plant in September.
READ: Altech Chemicals marks key milestone towards commencing high purity alumina plant construction
The company achieved a key milestone in the September quarter in producing a successful and scalable chemical process solution to produce battery-grade quality lithium carbonate (LCE).
About 500 kilograms of LCE product has been produced to date.
Argosy believes the exclusive chemical process technology is effectively proven for utilisation of future development stages at the Rincon Lithium Project.
READ: Argosy Minerals demonstrates chemical process for battery-quality lithium production at Rincon
Aura aims to bring Tiris into production in 2019-20 and is currently working on a definitive feasibility study for the uranium project.
Australian Vanadium Ltd (ASX:AVL) has completed a baseline pre-feasibility study for its Gabanintha Vanadium Project in WA, which estimates a net present value (NPV) range for the project that has an upper end of US$2.37 billion when assuming a US$20 per pound vanadium price.
The base case demonstrates robust project fundamentals featuring competitive product costs and financials and will allow AVL to move quickly into piloting and a definitive feasibility study.
Gabanintha has a vanadium resource of 175.5 million tonnes at 0.77% vanadium pentoxide, which includes a high-grade zone of 93.6 million tonnes at 1%.
A recently completed infill drilling program at the project confirmed a consistent 3 to 10-metre-thick zone grading over 1.2% vanadium in 10 of 11 holes.
Bannerman Resources Ltd’s (ASX:BMN) 95%-owned Etango project is near Rio Tinto plc's (LON:RIO) Rössing Uranium mine, the Langer Heinrich Uranium Mine owned by Paladin Energy Ltd (ASX:PDN) and CGNPC’s Husab Uranium Mine.
A definitive feasibility study at Etango has confirmed the viability of a large open pit and heap leach operation with expected annual production of 7-9 million pounds of yellow cake for the first five years and 6-8 million pounds per year thereafter.
The company undertook a large-scale heap leach demonstration program between 2015 and 2017 to provide further assurance to financing parties, generate process information for the engineering design phase and enhance internal capability.
The company also has several exploration licences in Western Australia at tenements prospective for graphite.
READ: Technology and Low Emission Minerals conference to showcase emerging Australian battery metals industry
Last month Blackstone identified multiple new large-scale targets at the Jewel copper-gold-cobalt prospect within Little Gem.
The Jewel prospect is 1.1 kilometres northeast of the Little Gem prospect and is associated with the high-grade Jewel Underground Mine with historical production of 51 tonnes between 1938 and 1940.
Historical average mining grades of 73 g/t and 0.4% copper have been supported by Blackstone rock chip samples assaying up to 98 g/t gold, 3.2% copper and 0.1% cobalt.
Honeymoon is a fully permitted uranium mine with $170 million of established infrastructure, including a plant under care and maintenance, and can be fast-tracked back into production in a 12-month time span.
In April 2017 Comet recovered graphene through exfoliation of diamond core and is continuing research and test work on graphene production and other graphite products, including battery-grade graphite.
Core Lithium's Finniss project near Darwin
A definitive feasibility study focused on mining and production of high-grade lithium concentrate at Finniss is currently underway and on track for completion later this month.
Core completed a pre-feasibility study for Finniss in June, indicating the project would be a low-capex lithium concentrate operation with globally competitive cash costs, high operating margins and rapid capital payback.
The Grants deposit is expected to generate a net present value (NPV) of $140 million pre-tax with an internal rate of return (IRR) of 142% at an average concentrate price of US$649 per tonne.
The PFS is assessing the path to commercialising Element's manganese resource following strong scoping study results and growth forecasts in high-purity manganese markets.
Element plans to mine and process high-purity products including manganese sulphate for lithium ion batteries and electrolytic manganese metal.
The company is in discussion with several independent advisory groups to provide early-stage project financing services including initial engagement with potential funders and advice on available funding structures and strategies.
Element intends to integrate substantial renewable energy into its power solution to minimise carbon intensity and further reduce costs.
Galan has been de-risking the project through soil sampling and geophysics and has made plans to drill test defined targets.
Recent survey work conducted over the project’s western basin targets delineated new discoveries of lithium-bearing brines, adding to the project’s potential scalability.
The company expects to post a maiden JORC resource before the end of the financial year.
An independently designed and operated external fluidised bed reactor recently tested and validated Hazer’s low emission hydrogen and graphite process, confirming its scalability.
The testing also provided a performance comparison to Hazer’s own FBR, produced comparative bulk graphite samples and assessed alternative heating methods.
Hazer has commissioned a demonstration plant which will utilise the Hazer process as a fully-integrated, continuously operating technology, at practicable scale, with proven capability to supply a final product to market.
The company is developing its McIntosh Graphite Project in WA’s Kimberley region, a low-risk fully-funded graphite project with quality downstream products.
Infinity Lithium Corporation Ltd (ASX:INF) is leveraging growing market demand for lithium hydroxide in the production of cathode batteries as it develops processing routes for its San Jose Lithium Project ore.
Last month the company expanded its lithium hydroxide scoping study at the Spain-based project to include further hydroxide as well as lithium sulphate flowsheet development.
The expanded study comes after the company identified the hard-rock San Jose resource has a natural advantage over brine producers due to a straight conversion process via a lithium sulphate transitional pathway.
Infinity is advancing its lithium hydroxide study in direct response to the evolving battery chemicals market, with lithium hydroxide demand continuing to grow faster than lithium carbonate.
Most of the recent global investments in lithium chemical plants have been in lithium hydroxide production as lithium-ion battery makers move towards higher-energy density and nickel-rich cathodes.
The PFS put forward a notable low cost for producing lithium equivalent, due to the high volume and value of the boron by-product it would produce along with lithium carbonate.
ioneer's study put the Rhyolite Ridge project’s after-tax net present value (NPV) at US$1.8 billion at a 7% real discount rate.
The after-tax internal rate of return (IRR) was 27.7%, making the payback period on the 30-plus-year mine a short 4.1 years.
Initial capital expenditure (capex) was US$426 million including indirect costs and contingency plus $173 million for a lump-sum turnkey sulphuric acid plant.
Looking east over ioneer's Rhyolite Ridge south basin
Ironbark has published an exploration target of 302-347 million tonnes at 4.4-5% zinc over 11 kilometres of strike, suggesting a potential mine life of over 100 years at contemplated production rates of about 3.3 million tonnes per annum.
The exploration target exceeds the last published mineral resource of 70.8 mt at 5.7% zinc and lead.
Citronen has some unique characteristics that are likely to make it one of the most environmentally friendly and sustainable global operations.
Ironbark plans to draw on these advantages to deliver the cleanest zinc mine in the world.
The Epanko deposit has a JORC indicated mineral resource estimate of 12.8 million tonnes at 10% total graphitic carbon, containing 1.28 million tonnes of graphite.
The battery metals-focused company has begun a pilot plant program and is planning commercial expansion.
Through its SiLeach and LieNA lithium extraction processes, along with quality cathode material production from wholly-owned subsidiary VSPC Ltd, the company seeks to establish a vertically-integrated lithium processing business.
Stage II processing trials of SiLeach are ongoing at a facility in Sydney, with the objective of using the processing technology to convert mine waste into lithium-ion batteries.
The company is also reassessing the pilot plant location to optimise technical and financial benefits.
This process will take into account the principal financial considerations together with intangibles such as the ability to manage research & development in offshore jurisdictions.
The company is advancing its Browns Range Project, 160 kilometres southeast of Halls Creek in Western Australia, and has developed a three-stage plan to test and market its mixed rare earths carbonate product before a bankable feasibility study and final construction.
Peninsula Mines Ltd (ASX:PSM) aims to become a graphite producer in South Korea by the end of 2020, with recent work focused on demonstrating its processed fine flake concentrate can be converted into high-purity spherical graphite for lithium-ion batteries.
In drilling completed last month the graphite developer intersected significant widths of mineralisation at its Gapyeong Flake-Graphite Project.
Gapyeong’s exploration target is 10-14 million tonnes grading 8-12% total graphitic carbon and containing 1-1.4 million tonnes of graphite.
Peninsula hopes to mine its graphite flake, turn it into concentrate, then produce spherical graphite to supply Korean battery-makers.
READ: Pilbara Minerals readies product as it increases lithium-tantalum reserves at Pilgangoora in WA's northwest
The project is one of the biggest lithium spodumene deposits in the world, with a hard rock mineral resource estimate of 226 million tonnes at 1.27% lithium, 116 ppm tantalum and 0.6% iron ore.
This amounts to 2.86 million tonnes of contained lithium and 57.7 million pounds of tantalum.
A 3D overlay of plans for Stage 2 at Pilgangoora
Protean Energy Ltd (ASX:POW) is focused on the commercialisation of its V-KOR vanadium battery energy storage systems and holds a multi-energy mineral project in South Korea through its 50% holding in Stonehenge Korea Ltd.
The company was recently awarded $3 million in funding commitments for a multi-party vanadium battery project which will aim to develop an industry standard for vanadium batteries in Korea.
Renascor Resources Ltd (ASX:RNU) is developing its Siviour Graphite Project in South Australia and lodged a mining lease application with the South Australian Department for Energy and Mining earlier this year.
The company is completing a pre-feasibility study for the downstream production of uncoated spherical graphite, as well as reserve definition and metallurgical drilling and advanced offtake negotiations with potential buyers of Siviour production.
READ: Vanadium critical for renewable energy storage, hears Technology and Low Emission Minerals Conference
The company completed its acquisition of the Skåne Vanadium Project this week and aims to develop the project’s sedimentary-hosted ore body which formed on the seafloor and exists over tens of square kilometres.
Skåne’s vanadium-rich deposit is about 10 metres thick and runs from surface over more than 40 kilometres.
Predicted vanadium deficit. Source: Bushveld Minerals
Sovereign Metals Ltd (ASX:SVM) recently released a pre-feasibility study for its Malingunde Graphite Project in Malawi, confirming the project’s low capital and operating costs along with high margins and high-grade products.
The strong economic estimates can be attributed to the deposit being hosted entirely in soft saprolite material, its high grade of 9.5% total graphitic carbon, and the excellent infrastructure nearby.
The company has ongoing sales negotiations with numerous tier 1 and other offtake parties across multiple industrial sectors and locations.
Bald Hill has an indicated and inferred mineral resource of 18.9 million tonnes at 1.18% lithium and 149 ppm tantalum.
Probable reserves are 4.3 million tonnes at 1.18% lithium and 208 ppm tantalum.
READ: Tawana Resources gains on $40 million funds backing Alliance Mineral Assets merger, Bald Hill mine pick-up
Through an 80% interest in holding company Grafex Limitada, Triton holds interest in three prospective graphite licences: the Ancuabe Project and the Balama North and South projects.
Recent drilling at the Thor copper-lead-zinc prospect intersected massive sulphides, confirming the target is a 20-kilometre long volcanogenic massive sulphide-style system.
CSA Global's Tony Donaghy speaking on the vanadium sector
Feature presentations during the conference were also made by: Argonaut Limited; Australia’s Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation; CSA Global Pty Ltd; InfraNomics; Olympus; TradeTech LLC; CRU; and the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies.
The keynote address was given by the Hon Bill Johnston MLA, WA Minister for Mines and Petroleum, and the conference also heard from the Hon Mark Butler MP, Federal Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy.
Private companies Tianqi Lithium Australia, International Graphite Pty Ltd and Earth AI also gave presentations.