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Lithium Australia’s VSPC subsidiary achieves world first with mine waste

Lithium Australia’s wholly-owned subsidiary VSPC Ltd has completed a world first; producing lithium-ion battery cathode material and lithium-ion batteries from tri-lithium phosphate that came directly from mine waste.

The feat was achieved using VSPC’s ground-breaking SiLeach® process, which removes the requirement for generation of high-purity lithium hydroxide or carbonate – long seen as one of the most cost-intensive and challenging steps in the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries.

The tri-lithium phosphate was converted to lithium-iron-phosphate cathode material at the advanced electrochemical laboratory and pilot plant facility in Brisbane, Queensland, operated by VSPC.

The cathode material was characterised by X-ray diffraction and scanning electron microscopy and determined to be of similar quality to VSPC-standard lithium-iron-phosphate material. Lithium-ion batteries were subsequently produced and tested under a range of charge and discharge conditions and the cells achieved equivalent performance to VSPC’s advanced cathode powders using lithium carbonate as the manufacturing feed, Lithium Australia reported.

“Battery performance compares very favourably against cells using standard VSPC cathode material produced with industry-standard lithium carbonate,” the company added.

The demonstrated ability to by-pass lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide as battery precursors provides potential to significantly reduce the cost of battery manufacture, according to Lithium Australia.

“Not only that, the use of mine waste in the battery production cycle can provide greater sustainability to global lithium resources.”

The company is also developing the process for direct production of cathode powders from lithium brines to not only eliminate the requirement to produce high-purity lithium hydroxide or carbonate, but to reduce the requirement for evaporation ponds – one of the more capital-intensive aspects of setting up a lithium brine operation.

Lithium Australia Managing Director Adrian Griffin said: “The most notable aspect of this achievement is its simplicity and ability to streamline the processes and cost required to produce lithium-ion battery cathode materials.

“The broader application to lithium brine exploitation provides enormous potential for that part of the lithium industry, by removing the cost intensive route to lithium hydroxide – the direct use of lithium phosphate to produce cathode powders may do that.”

Lithium Australia’s VSPC subsidiary has been one of the fastest movers in this growing space, completing a large-scale pilot plant to demonstrate its SiLeach process at commercial scale earlier this year.

The company develops processing technology for the manufacture of nano-scale battery cathode powders (via its subsidiary VSPC), the recycling of lithium-ion batteries and low-energy recovery of lithium and other metals from silicates with its 100%-owned SiLeach hydrometallurgical process.