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LITHIUM | Lepidico


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LEPIDICO A new source of lithium for the global battery market


LITHIUM | Lepidico

Demand for basic materials and commodities that are crucial components in lithium-ion batteries have skyrocketed in recent years and will remain on an upward trajectory for the foreseeable future, based on numerous sweeping projections regarding the electrification of the global energy and automotive markets. However, the lithium industry is facing the prospect of a supply deficit, with many new producers scrambling to convert raw lithium into a usable end product for the battery manufacturing market. While conventional sources of lithium from brine sites in South America and spodumene hubs in Australia and Canada are currently well-poised to handle the predicted uptick in demand in the near term, a bottleneck dynamic is emerging from a lag in downstream facilities coming online and in the long term substantial sources of new supply will be required to meet anticipated burgeoning demand.

L-Max® technology L-Max® is designed to treat lithium-rich mica and phosphate mineral concentrates, using simple but highly effective leach and impurity removal processes. With only a handful of companies exploring for such unconventional sources of lithium, Lepidico’s L-Max® has the potential to be a disruptive force within the battery grade lithium production space, by bringing a new source of low cost lithium chemical to the market. The main reagent used in the L-Max° process is sulphuric acid, a common waste product from base metal smelting operations that often needs to be transported significant distances to find a market. However, Lepidico’s technology is set to put this waste chemical to good use through L-Max®, which the Australian patent office, IP Australia, has identified as a novel, inventive and industry applicable process. “From an environmental perspective the L-Max® process can be considered as a sulphuric acid sink that allows a hazardous waste product, when combined with the lithium mica feed source to be converted into a suite of valuable products,” says Lepidico’s managing director Joe Walsh.

Entering this bubbling cauldron is Lepidico,

“Crucially, it’s not just about lithium

championing its patent registered L-Max®

carbonate or lithium chemicals here,” he

process technology that successfully treats

continues. “The other advantage with L-Max®

previously overlooked lithium mica minerals

is that it produces eco-friendly by-products

into battery grade lithium chemical and a

and relatively modest quantities of benign

suite of valuable by-products.

waste.”


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LITHIUM | Lepidico

For instance, one of the by-products of

presents Lepidico with an exciting

the process is sodium silicate, which has

opportunity to offset operating costs

a huge variety of manufacturing uses and

associated with production, to the point

could alone represent nearly half of overall

where its process can be considered a

potential revenue for Lepidico, according to

zero-C1 cost method of producing lithium

Walsh.

carbonate.

This potential to make significant additional

As outlined in the Phase 1 L-MaxÂŽ plant pre-

revenue from by-products is an important

feasibility study completed last year, for a

part of the processes economics and

capex of US$40-45 million the 30,000 tonnes


Resource Global Network The Phase 1 feasibility identified up to 50,000tpa of sodium silicate at $690 a tonne, along with other by-products that could include sulphate of potash (3,0004,000tpa at $600 a tonne), as well as caesium and tantalite, the quantities of which vary depending on the feed source. Subsequently sodium sulphate has been identified as a further by-product, albeit of lower value. “Our process is conducted at atmospheric pressure and at modest temperature. The maximum temperature employed is just over 100 Celsius. Furthermore, the process is not power intensive, and employs common use industrial reagents and equipment, which make for straightforward occupational health and safety requirements.” This is where the strategic location of the Phase 1 plant, close to abundant, affordable sources of sulphuric acid, becomes important in terms of the low cost nature of the project and is why the company is looking at building its first plant in the longstanding mining town of Sudbury, in the Canadian province of Ontario. per annum (tpa) capacity plant will produce

There are two large nickel smelters in

2,500-3,000tpa of battery grade lithium

Sudbury which produce large quantities

carbonate equivalent (LCE), at an average

of sulphuric acid for export, with Lepidico

cash cost of nil after by-products are taken

almost certainly set to become the largest

into account.

local consumer of that acid.

“On a C1 cost basis, the pre-feasibility

The case for Sudbury is strengthened

study identified that the by-products have

by its well-established infrastructure

the potential to offset all operating costs,”

networks, including power, water, gas and

confirms Walsh.

rail, experienced industrial workforce, and


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an abundance of mining related services.

mica deposits, including one with private

Sudbury is also close to active markets for

Portuguese firm Grupo Mota.

its L-Max® by-products, with the wider Great Lakes region providing a depth of market for

Under the existing ore offtake agreement

sodium silicate and potential new markets for

with Grupo Mota, lepidolite ore from the

this co-product.

Alvarroes mine in Portugal is planned to

Two-pronged Strategy

be concentrated and shipped to Canada for processing by L-Max®. “We are working

Lepidico is looking to combine a fully-

closely with Grupo Mota on furthering

integrated business model with a

this arrangement and late last year we

downstream business that will see the

announced the first mineral resource

company bring in third party feeds while

estimate for that deposit,” says Walsh.

building a global portfolio of quality lepidolite deposits.

“While modest in size at about 1.5Mt, the key here is that we don’t need a lot of tonnes to

However, owing to the rudimentary nature of

support an L-Max® plant, with this resource

lithium mica exploration and extraction, the

sufficient to provide more than 10 years feed

company has found itself poring over several

to our planned phase 1 plant in Sudbury.”

early stage lepidolite occurrences. Having said that, Lepidico has made a number of

Elsewhere, Lepidico has entered into

arrangements with the owners of lithium

arrangements over various lepidolite


LITHIUM | Lepidico


Australian Resource Business Global Network projects in Canada and Western Australia,

Aside from the potential to open up new

where drilling programmes have recently

revenue streams from hard rock lithium

commenced on the latter projects.

sources, the deal with Galaxy provided further strong validation of Lepidico’s method

Tailings retreatment represents another limb

and strategy from a major global player in the

of the upstream model. Lepidico recently

lithium space and one who’s current market

completed a successful test work programme

capitalisation stands at around $1.4 billion.

on tailings samples from the Mt Cattlin mine in Western Australia, a spodumene operation

“For any lithium development company, the

owned by Galaxy Resources, a major

backing of an incumbent industry participant

producer in the lithium sector.

provides a stamp of credibility and is a massive endorsement of the underlying

The results revealed that the L-Max® process was able to deliver attractive process

business strategy,” declares Walsh.

lithium carbonate grading of 99.8% LCE

Changing supply and demand dynamics

from lepidolite contained in the Mt Cattlin

Returning to the forces shaping the current

tailings, an impressive result for the following

dynamics in the global lithium space, demand

reasons.

for the light metal has been on a steady

recoveries of over 90% while producing

growth curve over the past decade, driven “This really demonstrates the flexibility of

by increased portable technology usage and

L-Max®. It has the capability to economically

production of devices that require lithium-ion

extract lithium chemicals from tailings

batteries.

containing relatively modest quantities of lithium-mica.

In fact, between 2006 and 2016 lithium-ion battery demand went from 10GW to nearly

“Lepidico provides a significant value-

100GW, according to metals consultancy

add opportunity for existing spodumene

Roskill. But, only in the last five years have

operations that are processing ores that

EVs emerged into the picture, with this

also contain lithium-mica and phosphate

disruptive industry set to propel lithium

minerals.

demand to new heights if current adoption projections are taken as gospel.

“Furthermore, in the case of former operating mines there may be potential to reprocess

“EVs are coming off a low base,” admits

tailings and waste dumps, which could

Walsh.

provide an environmental remediation opportunity on such sites.”

“However growth in market share is significant. More importantly though, we

78


LITHIUM | Lepidico

are seeing – around the developed world

around 3,000tpa LCE, but Lepidico expects

and particularly in China – huge government

to have additional installed capacity in the

incentives to encourage EV adoption.

plant’s major capital equipment that could allow it to be efficiently expanded to 5,000-

“I think it’s going to be those initiatives that

6,000tpa LCE, although this is still quite small

are really going to underpin broad based,

given the overall market for lithium chemicals

rapid EV adoption. Particularly for urban

is currently around 200,000tpa.

usage, EVs are a very compelling mode of transport.”

However, a full-scale L-Max® plant, which will be evaluated to succeed the Phase 1

Operating on the supply side of this major

plant in the early 2020s, is expected to be

growth industry is where Lepidico hopes

considerably larger at around 20,000tpa

to thrive. At this stage, the Phase 1 plant

LCE. This would make Lepidico a globally

is about proving commercial viability of

significant producer of battery grade lithium

L-Max®, after proving the technical capability

for an industry that could well grow to a size

of the process on a continuous basis at lab

of 500,000tpa LCE by this time.

scale. “The industry is going to need numerous The Phase 1 plant has nominal capacity of

projects of this size to be able to satisfy the


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current projections for demand growth,”

has tremendous support from the province

predicts Walsh.

of Ontario and the city of Sudbury for its Phase 1 plant initiative.

“What’s going to be most important however, is thanks to our substantial by-product

In the long term, Lepidico will look to fast-

credits and also to the relatively low cost

track the full-sale plant into operation during

reagents, Lepidico should sit in the lower part

the early 2020s, at which point it would

of the global cost curve, making it a robust

become a globally significant, vertically

producer throughout a price cycle.”

integrated lithium chemical producer.

Lepidico’s short-term aim is to get the Phase

Beyond this horizon, the company is also

1 L-Max® plant into operation by 2020,

looking to establish replica plants in other key

with the securing of all relevant permits

markets such as Europe and Asia.

and approvals being the next hurdles to overcome. Walsh assures that the company

b


Published by Anderson Murray Media Ltd

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