Lithium Australia’s (ASX:LIT) LieNA pilot plant programme has been given the green light to further investigate its unique spodumene conversion process.
In February 2020, the company was awarded a grant under the Australian federal government’s CRC-P (Co-operative Research Centre Projects) initiative, to support the next stage of its A$3.6 million research and development (R&D) programme for the recovery of lithium from spodumene using LieNA.
Much of the preparatory work has now been completed, including collection of an initial test sample recovered from drill chips and bench-scale test work to characterise the flotation conditions required for pilot-plant production of concentrates from the drill chip sample, optimise caustic conversion conditions and confirm the final autoclave design specification.
The advent of COVID-19 in 2020 made operation of the pilot plant impractical, but with Australia’s internal travel restrictions now lifted the programme has been reinvigorated. R&D testing of the first concentrates is scheduled to commence in September 2021.
LieNA is a caustic conversion technology with strong parallels to the production of alumina from bauxite. The digestion process, undertaken in sodium hydroxide at elevated temperature and pressure, invokes a phase change from spodumene to sodalite; impurities are rejected and a product from which lithium is readily leached is created
The LieNA process can produce a range of lithium chemicals, including hydroxide, carbonate and phosphate. Lithium phosphate is the preferred product, as it is easy to refine, commands a price premium over hydroxide or carbonate and is the ideal precursor to the production of lithium ferro phosphate (LFP) batteries.
LFP is a safe, low-cost type of lithium-ion battery (LIB) and, as such, comprises the fastest growing sector within the LIB market. Factors that include safety, quality, longevity and cost are what is driving the dominance of LFP, in not just energy storage applications but also electric vehicles, among them two- and three-wheelers, cars, trucks, buses and trains.
Managing Director, Adrian Griffin, said construction of critical pilot-plant components has commenced with an order for an autoclave placed.
Lithium Australia’s LieNA technology is the pinnacle for hydrometallurgical processing of spodumene, the principal hard-rock source of lithium,” Mr Griffin said.
“LieNA is capable of recovering lithium from fine and/or contaminated spodumene that fails to meet the feed specifications of current converters.
“It also provides the highest levels of impurity rejection. It is these characteristics that set it apart. LieNA, then, is designed to improve overall recovery and achieve better utilisation of existing resources: it’s about cost reduction, sustainability and maximising the benefit of our critical (and finite) resources.”