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Lithium Australia subsidiary VSPC achieves major cost reductions in cathode material trials

VSPC’s optimised process for production of LFP cathode material reduces chemical costs by up to 20% and manufacture of iron reagents from base raw materials further reduces these costs up to 10%.

Lithium Australia NL - Lithium Australia subsidiary VSPC achieves major cost reductions in cathode material trials
VSPC is developing low-cost raw material options for its proprietary process

Lithium Australia NL’s (ASX:LIT) (FRA:3MW) battery technology subsidiary VSPC Ltd has made further progress in commercialising its processing technology for production of lithium-ferro-phosphate (LFP) cathode material.

VSPC’s optimised process has resulted in a reduction in chemical costs of up to 20% while the manufacture of iron reagents from base raw materials has further reduced chemical costs by up to 10%.

Ongoing tests have shown that the lithium phosphate (LP) raw materials produced using VSPC’s optimised process return excellent electrochemical results.

This work has confirmed the flexibility of the process for a range of lithium feed materials.

“Maximising competitive advantages”

Lithium Australia MD Adrian Griffin said: "Using easily available and lower-cost base reagents in the manufacture of LFP can have a profound impact on the price of production.

"It is imperative that VSPC maximises its competitive advantages in terms of both reagent inputs and physical manufacturing costs.”

In October 2019, at its Brisbane research and development facility, VSPC initiated a project to develop low-cost raw material options for its proprietary process for cathode material synthesis.

Co-funded by AMGC

The project is being co-funded by the Australian Manufacturing Growth Centre (AMGC), a not-for-profit organisation established by Australia’s Federal Government to support the development of world-leading advanced manufacturing in Australia.

Project objectives include:

  • Demonstrate the technical feasibility of producing advanced LFP cathode material via an optimised process that, significantly, requires less chemical reagents. The process has been dubbed ‘VSPC-RC’, where RC is an acronym for reduced cost; and
  • Evaluate the techno-economic feasibility of LFP synthesis using lower-cost raw materials such as iron sulphate, iron oxides and LP from several sources.

These sources are:

  • The company’s patented SiLeach® process, which targets lepidolite;
  • The company’s LieNA® process, which targets fine and/or low-grade spodumene; and
  • Mixed metal dust (‘MMD’) derived from spent lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) by company subsidiary Envirostream Australia Pty Ltd, a mixed battery recycling entity in Melbourne, Victoria.

Stage two outcomes

With stage two now complete, VSPC has achieved a number of outcomes:

  • The VSPC-RC process was operated at laboratory and pilot scale to produce advanced LFP cathode material via a simplified process operation and with consumption of chemical reagents significantly reduced;
  • Such process refinements could reduce reagent costs by 15-20%, depending on project location, which is significant given that prices for chemical reagents account for more than half the total costs of manufacturing LFP cathode material;
  • A further 5-10% reduction in chemical costs was achieved by manufacturing iron oxalate (normally a major reagent cost) from base chemical reagents that included iron sulphate and iron oxide materials;
  • The optimised VSPC-RC process was applied to LP from several sources to produce LFP cathode materials. Those sources included refined LP produced via SiLeach®, LP produced from fine spodumene using LieNA® and refined LP produced using Envirostream MMD as feed; and
  • Importantly, the advanced LFP cathode material VSPC produced demonstrated excellent electrochemical performance which was equivalent to or exceeding that of VSPC’s standard LFP material.

Cost-competitiveness supported

These results further support the cost-competitiveness of the VSPC-RC process, as well as its flexibility in terms of application to several lithium raw materials, including lithium carbonate, lithium hydroxide and LP.

Indeed, LP offers a direct, efficient route from mineral and recycled sources to the production of LFP cathode material for the fastest growing sector of the LIB market.

Griffin said: "The AMGC grant has been the catalyst in evaluating lower-cost options that may not otherwise have been considered.

"In many cases, such options are location-specific, so the results of this study may well lead to Australia being seen as a more competitive place for the production of LFP batteries.”

Next steps

Stage 3 of the VSPC project is underway and encompasses:

  • Further evaluation of iron oxide raw materials and LFP synthesis at laboratory scale;
  • Laboratory synthesis of LFP using LP processed from Envirostream MMD; and
  • Preparations for future work at pilot-plant scale.

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