Perth-based Lithium Australia NL (ASX: LIT), engaged in extraction, acquiring, recovering and developing of lithium deposits, has released its update for March Quarter 2020. During the reported quarter the Company achieved progress across different business activities and also implemented various measures to navigate through the COVID-19 situation.
March Quarter 2020- key Highlights
In the March quarter, Lithium Australia increased its equity stake to 90% in Envirostream, a national leader in battery recycling. The second shipment of MMD was sent from Envirostream’s new Melbourne recycling facility to SungEel in South Korea in March 2020. Envirostream had a stock of over 110 tonnes of spent LIBs as at 31 March 2020. Also, Envirostream started commissioning its copper-and-aluminium separation circuit, to be completed in the following months, to derive near-term revenue from the 178 tonnes of mixed Cu/Al stock, recovered from spent LIBs.
Also, during the quarter, Envirostream executed confidentiality agreements with, and began processing trials for spent batteries from, numerous multinational businesses such as manufacturers of electric-vehicle and suppliers of energy-storage systems. This would not only diversify but also expand feed sources for Envirostream’s recycling plant while preventing toxic materials from being consigned to landfill, which tend to contaminate both soil and groundwater.
Envirostream is also looking forward to the introduction of a nationwide battery stewardship system from 1 July 2020 by Australia’s Battery Stewardship Council, which would largely increase the supply of spent batteries to the Company.
In light of the current circumstances and market volatility, Lithium Australia Board has delayed the planned float of Envirostream.
Integral to its aim of ‘closing the loop’ on the energy-metal cycle, Lithium Australia has demonstrated its ability to recycle mine waste (lepidolite) and low- and variable-grade spodumene for battery production, by virtue of its SiLeach® and LieNA® technologies respectively. Both processes, in combination with VSPC’s patented nanotechnology, permit the production of battery cathode powders directly from LP recovered from silicate minerals or spent LIBs – without the need for an intermediate step to produce lithium hydroxide or carbonate.
Lithium Australia is currently exploring commercialisation of its LieNA® process with a number of lithium concentrate producers and also utilising the funding support from federal government for the next stage of LieNA® development.
On 9 February 2020, The Hon. Karen Andrews MP, Federal Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, announced the recipients of CRC-P grants for Round 8, whereby Lithium Australia will receive $ 1.3 million to advance the next stage of its LieNA® technology at a total project cost of $ 3.6 million.
Intellectual Property Milestones
- IP Australia’s Certificate of Grant for patent PCT/AU2017/050808 details the first generation of the LieNA® caustic digestion process. The Certificate provides legal protection within Australia over the technology for 20 years.
- WIPO published patent PCT/AU2019/050773 for Company’s 2nd gen LieNA® process, used in separation of Li from an uncalcined Li bearing silicate and recover it as Li3PO4.
- Publication by WIPO of patent application PCT/AU2019/050540 details Lithium Australia’s SiLeach® process for the recovery of LP and lithium sulphate from a lithium bearing solution.
Lithium Australia also added that publication of its applications demonstrates a significant fourth step in the seven-step process for the granting of patents within international jurisdictions, which can take several years to achieve.
Lithium Australia, together with its subsidiaries, is working to establish integrated processing operations for battery materials within Australia, paving the way for a cost-effective and genuinely renewable circular battery economy.
The Company’s integrated production cycle (i.e. lithium from recycled batteries → LP → LFP cathode material → new LIBs) has the potential to improve efficiency and reduce manufacturing costs in the battery industry, in line with standard ESG principles.
VSPC: VSPC’s assets comprise a comprehensive R&D facility, including a pilot plant and advanced laboratory and battery-testing capabilities in Brisbane, Australia. VSPC uses proprietary nanotechnology to develop advanced cathode materials, lucrative components in the battery production cycle and produce LIBs with superior performance features.
Collaboration with battery manufacturers: During the quarter, VSPC continued its production and testing of cathode materials and samples of its LFP are currently being assessed by overseas battery manufacturers. VSPC is working with leading Chinese battery producer DLG Battery Co. Ltd. to test commercial-format cells manufactured using VSPC cathode materials and subsequently, commercialise VSPC cathode powders in China.
Meanwhile, VSPC has also executed an MoU with Beijing Saideli Technology Incorporated Company Ltd whereby both parties will collaborate on a staged plan for commercialisation of VSPC’s LFP cathode material, establishment of a supply chain for VSPC customers in China and undertake a joint feasibility study for LFP production and supply outside China using VSPC proprietary process technology.
AMGC Project co-funding: VSPC has obtained a co-funding grant from Australian Manufacturing Growth Centre (AMGC), a not-for-profit organisation established by the federal government to support the development of world-leading advanced manufacturing in Australia. The grant is valued at up to $185,000 over a period of 12 months, beginning January 2020, to advance VSPC’s processes for the utilisation of lower-cost raw materials for cathode material synthesis.
Partners in the project include Lithium Australia subsidiaries Envirostream and Resource Conservation and Recycling Corporation Pty Ltd. Other partners include Chinese LIB-cell manufacturer DLG, which is providing testing services to the project, and The University of Queensland (‘UQ’), which would supply analytical and material characterisation services.
During the reporting period, VSPC completed stage 1 of the AMGC programme and continuing to test raw materials throughout the June quarter 2020.
Grant to develop fast-charge batteries : Also, as part of the CRC-P Round 8 initiative, VSPC has been given a federal government funding for a $ 5 million project to develop fast-charge LIBs for new generation battery-powered trams, eliminating the need for overhead power lines, which are expensive, visually polluting and potentially hazardous.
As leader of the project, VSPC would be receiving a total grant of $ 1.6 million over three years. Other project partners include Australia’s leading scientific group, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), UQ and Lithium Australia subsidiary Soluna (50% Lithium Australia and 50% DLG).
VSPC began preliminary work on the project, including partnership agreements and detailed planning, during the last three months.
Soluna battery alliance: During the quarter, Soluna continued to work to enter the Australian battery market, a crucial element of which is accreditation of its energy-storage products by the Clean Energy Council (CEC), which involves testing and assessment to Australia and international standards. The company also advanced preparation of documentation for CEC accreditation during the quarter with CEC approval anticipated in the June quarter 2020.
Lithium Australia also continued to evaluate the sourcing of lithium minerals from its own global portfolio of deposits, which comprise:
- Medcalf Lithium Prospect, Lake Johnston Project; Greenbushes Project; Wundowie Project, Ravensthorpe Project, Seabrook Rare Metals Project in Western Australia.
- Bynoe Project In Northern Territory.
- Dudley Project in Kangaroo Island, South Australia.
- Electra Project in Mexico.
- Sadisdorf Lithium Project in Germany.
While most of the Company employees are working from home, those who are operating from the office premises are observing strict social distancing and hygiene measures.
Some of the measures implemented to deal with this unprecedented situation include:
- Employee costs reduced significantly from April 2020.
- Federal and state government support being utilised to retain staff.
- Directors to take half their fees in Company shares.
- Rental costs reduction observed from April 2020 onward.
- Deferring of non-core exploration and technology development related expenses.
- The Company is funded for this calendar year at least.
Lithium Australia is also continuing to implement cost-cutting measures to improve management of, and streamline, each business unit. In addition, a call on LITCE partly paid shares has raised $361,000 to date, with the LITCE auction to be held in May 2020.
Stock Information: The LIT stock closed the trading on 1 May 2020 at $ 0.046, with a market cap of ~ $ 27.09 million.