LieNA® lithium extraction technology proceeding towards commercialisation 

  • Jul 21, 2020 AEST
  • Team Kalkine
LieNA® lithium extraction technology proceeding towards commercialisation 

Summary

  • LieNA® is a sharp conversion process to recover lithium from fine and low-quality spodumene.
  • LieNA® is an outcome of LIT's long R&D research and investments.It promises to reduce environmental footprints and mining costs.
  • LieNA® can produce a range of lithium chemicals as the final product which can cater to different market demands.
  • Lithium Australia is in talks with several spodumene concentrate producers and lithium chemical manufacturers for commercialisation of the process.

 

Lithium Australia NL (ASX: LIT) aspires to create a circular battery economy to ensure a sustainable supply of energy metals to the battery industry.

What's LieNA® technology?

LieNA® is a sharp conversion process developed by LIT with the help of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO). It recovers lithium from fine and low-quality spodumene, which otherwise is considered waste materials.

It is revolutionary as Bench-scale test findings suggest that it can process materials that cannot be handled by traditional conversion processes. The traditional conversion system depends on roasting, and acid leach, which are not tolerant of fine feed material and impurities.

Many spodumene concentrate manufacturers in Australia are interested in the LieNA® process.

Also read: Lithium Australia's progress in maintaining operations during an uncertain environment

Background of LieNA® technology

Since 2014, LIT has invested more than AUD 12 million in the research of lithium extraction from hard-rock sources. LieNA® is developed based on this research. The process can recover lithium from low-specification spodumene. It otherwise is hard to process and is discarded by producers of spodumene as waste material.

The process will increase the lithium recovery due to the vast amount of low-specification spodumene available as the waste material. Lithium Australia's work for battery material sustainability, secure supply chains and also the development of processing option as per the high ESG standards are environmentally friendly. Hence, it has earned the company government's recognition.

LieNA® is co-funded by the federal government under Co-operative Research Centres Projects (CRC-P) grant for supporting the development and operation of a pilot plant.

Generating battery chemicals from 'waste' spodumene

Currently, the recovery of spodumene from commercial concentrates that are fitting for the traditional converters result in 30-50 per cent(or more) of mined lithium being discharged into tailings dams.

However, using LieNA® for recovering the lithium chemicals from waste materials will drastically reduce the mining costs and environmental footprint of such operations.

Design of LieNA® process 

It has robust parallels with the processing of bauxite to produce alumina. The process involves caustic conversion at elevated temperature. See the image below to see the process steps:

Image source: company’s announcement

 

Additional benefits of LieNA® process

LieNA® process can produce a range of lithium chemicals as the final product. It is useful in the creation of some specific type of LIB. For example, LFP LIBs powers multiple electric vehicles in China (like in Tesla Model 3). The choice determines the safety feature of the battery type.

LieNA® can create lithium phosphate direct from spodumene, for use as feed in the generation of LFP cathode powders. It reduces the steps to produce the safest LIB, that is LFP.

Must read: Lithium Australia Updates on COVID-19 Austerity Measures

Lithium Australia is negotiating for LieNA® commercialisation

The commercialisation of any technology requires a transition from lab studies to the full-fledged use in processes through first-generation pilot plants.

To progress the promising conversion process towards commercialisation, LIT is in talks with several spodumene concentrate producers and lithium chemical manufacturers who can understand the usefulness and potential of commercialisation of LieNA® process.

LIT is planning to explore formal expressions of interest to join the LieNA® pilot-plant programme in return for equity in the process.  

Lithium Australia MD Adrian Griffin comments

Adoption of LieNA® offers substantial control of costs in the lithium chemical supply chain. Additionally, the ability to recover more lithium from waste streams. The mining cost will be reduced, and LieNA® gives the option to produce lithium phosphate from spodumene as direct feed for the fastest growing sector of the LIB LFP market without any further chemical conversion.

The process is acceptable as per the ESG considerations due to greater sustainability, superior safety, smaller mining footprint, and an absence of conflict metals. 

There are strong reasons why Tesla Model 3 chose LFP batteries in China. 

Stock performance: On 21 July, LIT closed the day’s trade at AUD 0.052, and was up by 6.122 per cent. It has a market cap of AUD 29.84 million.

 


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