Tag Archives: Lithium

Rio Tinto commences lithium production at Boron mine site in California

Rio Tinto says it has commenced production of battery-grade lithium from waste rock at a lithium demonstration plant at the Boron mine site in California, USA.

The demonstration plant is the next step in scaling up a breakthrough lithium production process developed at Boron, to recover the critical mineral and extract additional value out of waste piles from over 90 years of mining at the operation, it said. An initial small-scale trial in 2019 successfully proved the process of roasting and leaching waste rock to recover high grades of lithium.

The demonstration plant has a design capacity of 10 t/y of battery-grade lithium. It will be run throughout 2021 to optimise the process and inform Rio Tinto’s feasibility assessment for progressing to a production-scale plant with an initial capacity of at least 5,000 t/y, or enough to make batteries for around 70,000 electric vehicles.

Rio Tinto Minerals Chief Executive, Sinead Kaufman, said: “This is a valuable next step in scaling up our production of lithium at the Boron site, all from using waste material without the need for further mining. It shows the innovative thinking we are applying across our business to find new ways to meet the demand for emerging commodities like lithium, which are part of the transition to a low-carbon future.”

Rio Tinto’s lithium pipeline includes the Jadar lithium-borate project in Serbia, for which a feasibility study is expected to complete by the end of 2021.

Development of the lithium project at Boron draws on Rio’s long standing partnership with the US Department of Energy’s Critical Materials Institute (CMI), which is focused on discovering ways to economically recover critical mineral by-products from existing refining and smelting processes. CMI experts worked alongside Rio technical leads to help solve a number of key processing challenges to produce battery grade lithium at Boron, the company said.

E3 Metals receives provincial funding for Direct Lithium Extraction pilot

Canada-based E3 Metals says it has received a government grant totalling C$1.8 million ($1.4 million) from Alberta Innovates that will assist it in funding a pilot plant to test out its proprietary Direct Lithium Extraction (DLE) technology.

DLE technology, the company says, seamlessly connects conventional oil field and lithium processing, with the potential to unlock Alberta’s previously untapped lithium resources.

This direct brine process produces a concentrate feedstock that could be turned into lithium hydroxide using conventional production equipment, according to the company, with the benefit of DLE being that it can achieve at least 20 times to almost 100 times concentration of lithium (up to 5,300 mg/L) with a reduction of over 99% of all impurities and an extraction time of hours. This is achieved with average lithium recoveries of over 90%, the company says.

“E3 Metals’ goal is to commercialise its global-scale lithium resource and deliver zero carbon emissions, battery grade lithium products to the growing electric vehicle supply chain,” it said.

The funding provided by Alberta Innovates is to support the demonstration E3 Metals’ DLE technology by progressively scaling it up from the lab prototype to a field pilot. The first step will be a prototype operating within E3 Metals’ Calgary lab, and then a field pilot operating continuously on a site within E3 Metals’ resource area in Alberta.

“By demonstrating the process at a pilot scale over numerous months, the company plans to significantly de-risk its Alberta lithium project prior to scaling up to the anticipated commercial scale of 20,000 t/y lithium hydroxide monohydrate,” it said.

Alberta Innovates is a provincially funded corporation with a mandate to deliver 21st century solutions for the most compelling challenges facing Albertans, E3 Metals says. It does this by building on the province’s research and technology development strengths in the core sectors of health, environment, energy, and food and fibre, and platforms such as clean technology, digital technology for business transformation, data-enabled innovation, and innovative production and distribution.

E3 Metals has 7 Mt of lithium carbonate equivalent inferred mineral resources in Alberta within the Leduc Reservoir. Some 1.9 Mt of this is confined within its Clearwater lithium project.

Rio Tinto Kennecott to recover tellurium from copper smelting

Rio Tinto is to construct a new plant that will recover tellurium, a critical mineral used in solar panels, from copper refining at its Kennecott mine near Salt Lake City, Utah.

The company is investing $2.9 million to set up the plant, which will recover tellurium as a by-product of copper smelting, extracting a valuable mineral from waste streams. The plant will have a capacity to produce around 20 t/y of tellurium, the miner said.

Rio expects to begin production of tellurium in the December quarter of 2021, creating a new North American supply chain for the critical mineral.

Tellurium is an essential component of cadmium telluride, a semiconductor used to manufacture thin film photovoltaic solar panels. Thin films made of this compound can efficiently convert sunlight into electricity, according to the miner. Tellurium can also be used as an additive to steel and copper to improve machinability, making these metals easier to cut. It can also be added to lead to increase resistance to sulphuric acid, vibration and fatigue.

Rio Tinto Kennecott Managing Director, Gaby Poirier, said: “The minerals and metals we produce are essential to accelerate the transition to renewable energy. Adding tellurium to our product portfolio provides customers in North America with a secure and reliable source of tellurium produced at the highest environmental and labour standards with renewable energy. Rio Tinto is committed to using innovation to reduce waste in our production process and extract as much value as possible from the material that we mine and process.”

Utah Governor, Spencer Cox, said: “With abundant natural resources, Utah is ideally positioned to help supply the critical minerals essential to maintain American manufacturing competitiveness. Rio Tinto’s smelter at Kennecott is one of only two that is capable of producing copper and other critical minerals. The new tellurium plant is another valuable contribution to critical mineral independence and energy security in the US”

Along with producing almost 20% of US copper, Kennecott’s smelting process also recovers gold, silver, lead carbonate, platinum, palladium and selenium, while molybdenum is recovered from the Copperton concentrator. In total, nine products are currently recovered from the ore extracted at Kennecott.

Rio Tinto is a partner with the US Department of Energy’s Critical Materials Institute (CMI) and works closely with CMI experts to discover further ways to economically recover critical mineral by-products such as rhenium, tellurium and lithium. The company is also investing in new facilities to extract battery-grade lithium from waste rock at its Boron, California mine site and high quality scandium oxide from waste streams at its metallurgical complex in Sorel-Tracy, Quebec.

IronMerge SIMPEC joint venture to work on Pilgangoora lithium operation

SIMPEC and IronMerge have secured their first contract under a newly incorporated joint venture, with the IronMerge SIMPEC JV to work on Pilbara Minerals’ Pilgangoora lithium operation in Western Australia.

WestStar Industrial Ltd’s SIMPEC formed its first Aboriginal Business joint venture, IronMerge SIMPEC JV, with IronMerge Pty Ltd just last month.

The Stage 1 A$15 million ($11.7 million) improvement works contract at Pilgangoora involves a series of works to improve operating time and throughput as part of continuous improvement to operational performance of Pilgangoora’s Stage 1, 2 Mt/y processing facility.

SIMPEC has been contracted to perform all vertical installation works including earth works, civils, fabrication, structural, mechanical, piping, tanks, electrical and instrumentation works for the project. All works will be conducted with joint venture partner IronMerge.

The Pilgangoora lithium-tantalum project has a current resource of 222.5 Mt and existing JORC compliant reserves of 104.6 Mt.

SIMPEC Managing Director, Mark Dimasi (pictured on the right), said: “This newly awarded contract is a tribute to not only our SIMPEC delivery team but also Ian Taylor (Chairman of IronMerge, pictured in the middle next to Ken Brinsden, MD and CEO of Pilbara Minerals, on the left) and his IronMerge team. This is a very proud moment for all of us and I sincerely look forward to seeing this JV relationship growing and developing in the construction and mining sector. A big thank you to the Pilbara Minerals team for backing us throughout this tender phase.”

ioneer signs MoU with Caterpillar to introduce autonomous haulage at Rhyolite Ridge

ioneer Ltd says it has completed a joint automation study with Caterpillar and the Cat dealer for Nevada, Cashman Equipment Company, and signed a memorandum of understanding with Cat that should see autonomous haulage employed at the Rhyolite Ridge lithium-boron project in Esmerelda County.

The study was targeting the early introduction of Cat’s Command for hauling Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) at Rhyolite Ridge, with the results of the Rhyolite Ridge feasibility study showing the viability of AHS at the mine and how its proposed application could positively impact the overall cost structure of the operations.

Key anticipated drivers include increased operating hours, reduced cycle times and improved cycle efficiency, and decreased operating costs in terms of maintenance, fuel, labour and tyres. AHS should also lead to improved in-cycle productivity and overall utilisation, reducing the number of trucks required, ioneer said.

To date, Cat autonomous mining trucks have safely hauled more than 2 billion tonnes of material worldwide, driving over 67.6 million km without a lost-time injury in the process.

The Rhyolite Ridge operations are scheduled to start in 2023 with a fleet of Cat 785 Next Generation mining trucks (pictured) equipped with Cat Command for hauling, and the fleet is scheduled to expand significantly in year four, ioneer explained. All support equipment will feature the latest MineStar technology using high-precision GPS and real-time analytics to maximise efficiency and accuracy in material loading, it added.

This will be the first greenfield operation in North America to use AHS and will mark the expansion of Command for hauling automation technology to the 140-t class Cat 785 Next Generation mining truck.

The MoU between Cat and ioneer is for the use of Cat Command for hauling at the Rhyolite Ridge mine. The companies have engaged in preliminary, non-binding negotiations regarding the terms of the proposed transaction and intend to negotiate formal agreements in the coming months, ioneer said.

The partnership will operate through Cashman Equipment, Nevada’s Caterpillar dealership since 1931. The fleet and initial auxiliary equipment will all be equipped with Cat MineStar Terrain, sold and supported by Intermountain Mining Technologies. This GPS system provides improved data for drilling, excavation, grading and dozing and should allow for better delineation of the overburden and ore for Rhyolite Ridge, according to ioneer.

As stated in the October 2020 release, the equipment and services supplied by Caterpillar during the first five years of operation is valued at around $100 million and may be financed through Caterpillar Financial Services.

ioneer’s managing director, Bernard Rowe, said: “Our agreement with Caterpillar represents much more than just the purchase of equipment; it is a true ongoing partnership as we commence production at Rhyolite Ridge.

“We are very pleased with the results of the automation study and look forward to working with Caterpillar, Cashman, and Intermountain Mining Technology in our effort to produce materials that are vital to a sustainable future. The incorporation of an autonomous haulage system and other Caterpillar technologies at Rhyolite Ridge will only further our goal to improve project safety and operational efficiency.”

Jim Hawkins, General Manager of MineStar Solutions of Caterpillar Inc, said: “Caterpillar mining technologies, including Command for hauling, deliver mining companies throughout the world benefit from greater productivity, increased truck utilisation, consistent truck operation and reduced costs. We are excited to support ioneer to deliver these same advantages to the Rhyolite Ridge greenfield mining opportunity.”

The Rhyolite Ridge project is the only one of its type known globally, according to the DFS from Fluor. Its unique mineralogical characteristics support low-cost processing of its ore into high-grade lithium and boric acid products using sulphuric acid leaching.

An initial starter pit at the project will be developed in the southwestern part of the orebody to supply ore for the first 4.5 years. In this area, lithium grades are 15% higher than the average grade for the deposit and the ore is more exposed at surface. Development of the greater pit will start once the environmental permits for this development have been granted.

The Stage 2 pit design will facilitate a larger mining area to be maintained, aiding the efficiency of the operation for another 21 years, according to Fluor. Stage 2 will involve expansion to the south and east. Finally, mining will progress to the north of the deposit. The Stage 2 pit requires prestripping to begin in year four.

Fluor helping ioneer realise Rhyolite Ridge lithium-boron potential

Fluor says its leadership and robust experience in mineral production is exemplified by its work to develop the most advanced and significant lithium operation in the United States at Rhyolite Ridge’s lithium-boron project in central Nevada, USA.

Fluor says its capabilities and experience in developing large-scale materials production facilities allow the company to address the most important projects with a depth of talent across all disciplines that enables these vital projects to be properly designed, constructed and commissioned on time and within budget. Its global locations, with a focus and expertise on mining and metals, have engineered and constructed multiple successful, sustainable projects in different geographies and taken them from concept development to successful production, according to the company.

“Fluor is united with ioneer in delivering a world-class project that will quadruple American lithium battery material production by 2023,” Tony Morgan, President of Fluor’s mining and metals business, said. “This project fully supports our two companies’ mutual corporate goals of promoting a sustainable future.

“Fluor’s wide range of capabilities position us to support clients across the battery value chain and help lead the way in the ongoing energy transition and build up sustainable domestic supply to combat climate change.”

Fluor says it is partnering with ioneer for the development of Rhyolite Ridge, which, when complete, will produce more than 20,000 t/y of lithium battery materials, enough to support the production of over 400,000 electric cars per year.

This lithium project is leading the way in US lithium-ion battery supply chain development, according to the engineering group. Fluor, working with the ioneer team and subcontractors, will demonstrate the capability of US engineering to deliver such an important project on schedule and budget, it said.

“The Rhyolite Ridge project is being developed with a rigorous attention to details,” Fluor said. “Fluor, working with ioneer and leading metallurgical laboratory, Kemetco Research, have undertaken a standard setting, lock cycle, full simulation pilot plant over the past two years of development. Using extensive data collection and analysis, this robust test facility has allowed Fluor engineers and subcontractors to fully understand the design parameters and performance expectations that allow this unique mineralogical project to not only succeed, but to produce at the very bottom of the global lithium cost curve.”

A multi-disciplinary Fluor team has, to date, spent more than 300,000 man hours on Rhyolite Ridge and the project is rapidly progressing toward shovel-ready status. Assuming permitting and final project funding occur in a timely manner, Rhyolite Ridge is expected to be ready to start construction in mid-2021, Fluor said.

Albemarle to double capacity at Silver Peak lithium brine operation

Albemarle Corp has confirmed it will expand capacity at its lithium production facility in Silver Peak, Nevada, USA, and begin a program to evaluate clays and other available Nevada resources for commercial production of lithium.

Beginning in 2021, the company plans to invest $30-$50 million to double the current production at the Nevada site by 2025, making full use of its brine water rights. Additionally, the company plans to commence exploration of clay and evaluate technology that could accelerate the viability of lithium production from clay resources in the region this year.

The company explained: “As global demand for electric vehicles grows, North America automotive manufacturers are seeking to regionalise their supply chain for greater security and sustainability. Albemarle’s investment in Silver Peak, which produces lithium from brine extracted from the Clayton Valley basin, will support this increased demand for domestic supply of lithium.”

Eric Norris, Albemarle President, Lithium, said: “As a leader in the lithium industry, our priority is to optimise our world-class resources and production. This includes Silver Peak, a site uniquely positioned as the only lithium-producing resource in the United States.

“This investment in domestic capacity shows that we are committed to looking at the many ways in which Silver Peak can provide domestic support for the growing electric vehicle market.”

In addition to examining clay resources, Albemarle is seeking ways to optimise lithium extraction from its brine resources, including those in the Clayton Valley. Through a US Department of Energy-sponsored research project with Argonne National Laboratory, the company is investigating a process to streamline production of lithium hydroxide, which is principally used in electric vehicle batteries, from brine resources.

Albemarle’s domestic resources also include the historic 324 ha Kings Mountain, North Carolina, lithium site, which, it says, is one of the richest spodumene ore deposits in the world and home to the company’s global lithium technical centre and piloting operations, as well as lithium-containing brines in Arkansas.

NRW Holdings to add further mining/metals EPC capabilities with Primero acquisition

NRW Holdings is in pole position to take over Primero Group following a cash and shares bid that values Primero at A$100 million ($74 million).

Primero Directors, who own around 30% of Primero’s equity, have unanimously recommended its shareholders accept the offer in the absence of a superior proposal coming forward.

The addition of Primero, NRW says, would provide significant engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) capability to NRW’s renamed “Minerals, Energy & Technologies” business pillar.

For Primero, meanwhile, it would deliver a “meaningful premium” to recent market trading levels and avoid the need for a potential significantly dilutive capital raising to fund working capital required to deliver its 2021/2022 financial year contracted order book, NRW said. Primero currently has a contracted order book for FY21 of circa-A$285 million and holds preferred EPC contractor status across multiple projects totalling circa-A$900 million.

Managing Director of NRW, Jules Pemberton, said: “The acquisition of Primero will provide NRW with the opportunity to expand its Minerals, Energy & Technologies specialised capability and to leverage the combined expertise of both companies to pursue new business initiatives across a large pipeline of opportunities.

“It builds on NRW’s recent acquisitions of DIAB Engineering and RCR Mining Technologies and represents a further diversification of our strategic platform to offer clients continuity of services across the whole lifecycle of resource projects – from early planning, design, development, construction to operations and maintenance. In addition, Primero is also well positioned to future-focused energy solutions, including lithium and hydrogen technologies.”

Primero Managing Director, Cameron Henry, added: “The combination of NRW’s diversified delivery model coupled with the Primero capabilities will provide our client base with a unique end to end delivery model that will differentiate within the current market and will rapidly accelerate Primero’s growth strategy.

“Our teams have been working well at multiple levels together over the past 12 months and have several projects currently approaching delivery stage that will showcase the model.”

Detailed information relating to the offer will be set out in the Bidder’s Statement and Target’s Statement, which are expected to be dispatched to Primero shareholders in late November and early December 2020, respectively, the companies noted.

Piedmont Lithium enlists SGS Canada for pilot-scale spodumene work

Piedmont Lithium has agreed to partner with SGS Canada in Lakefield, Ontario, to complete a pilot-scale spodumene concentrator program at its namesake project in North Carolina, USA.

The company collected over 50 t of mineralised pegmatite from 17 locations across its core properties in February. These near-surface samples were from locations representing early, middle and late-stage planned production at the development.

Piedmont said the pilot plant design will be based on the results of prior test work programs and will be used to support both the definitive feasibility study (DFS) of the company’s planned concentrate operations, as well as detailed design engineering of full-scale operations.

The pilot program will target production of a large sample of spodumene concentrate with at least 6% Li2O and less than 1% Fe2O3 for use in future pilot-scale lithium hydroxide test work programs that Piedmont intends to complete as part of the DFS of its planned integrated lithium chemical plant. The tests will involve “dense medium and flotation” pilot work, Piedmont said.

The ASX-listed company said this test work is a “critical step in ensuring future commissioning and ramp-up success” at the project.

“Additionally, the bulk sample collected targeted a range of potential concentrator feed conditions, including low-grade zones and diluted feed,” the company said. “Testing variable conditions rather than an optimised feed will help inform engineering design and eliminate potential operational bottlenecks during the project design phase.”

Keith Phillips, President and Chief Executive Officer of Piedmont, said: “The program will enable Piedmont to complete future lithium hydroxide test work programs and also supply large sample of spodumene to our key customer, Tesla, for their own testing purposes.”

The prefeasibility study on the Piedmont lithium project, released earlier this year, envisaged two options – a “Merchant” project and an “Integrated” project. Both included an annual average lithium hydroxide production (steady-state) of 22,720 t, but only the latter included 160,000 t/y of 6% Li2O spodumene concentrate production over the 25-year mine life.

JordProxa crystallises battery chemical market potential with Albermarle, Terrafame orders

Australia-based JordProxa Pty Ltd has recently delivered crystallisation plants for two major battery metal producers, solidifying, it says, its position in the growing new energy market.

JordProxa designed, fabricated and dispatched several large-scale orders to site, including an evaporator and two crystallisation plants to lithium producer Albemarle, in Western Australia, and nickel sulphate, cobalt sulphate and ammonium sulphate crystallisation plants to Terrafame, in Finland. The modular plants are now being installed in Western Australia and installation is underway on site in Finland with the last modules in transit (pictured above), JordProxa said.

The most recent crystallisation plant deliveries follow, in 2019, the arrival of a JordProxa nickel sulphate crystallisation plant at BHP’s Nickel West operations in Western Australia.

JordProxa Managing Director, John Warner, says the rapid uptake of battery-electric vehicles has led to a surge in demand for battery chemicals and associated technologies.

“Battery chemical producers need a technology provider that can meet and exceed the demands of product purity, with a focus on continued process improvement, to keep up with changing product specifications,” Warner said.

“JordProxa understands the process fundamentals that influence product quality through evaporation and crystallisation. We combine the project delivery skills and global footprint of Jord and Proxa and are perfectly positioned to deliver state of the art plant solutions for ultra-pure battery chemicals at large tonnage scales.”

He added: “We leverage an established network of fabrication alliances and modular design capabilities. This allows us to deliver key assemblies that are tested in the workshop before they are dispatched and installed on site. Our aim is to optimise project delivery time while minimising project risk.”

Jord International CEO, Angus Holden, said he was pleased the group is demonstrating its technical and operational expertise in the new energy market.

“Our track record over 50 years of business demonstrates that we can successfully design and build reliable plants with tangible process benefits,” he said.

“This important crystalliser work from JordProxa delivers on our goal of supporting clean energy technologies and is generating a new long-term, sustainable revenue stream. It has helped our group achieve a record revenue for the 2020 financial year, aided by other new areas of business, including enhanced minerals beneficiation and topside modules for offshore gas fields.”