Pilbara Minerals and Calix join to develop “midstream” lithium refinery

Image credit: Calix

Pilbara Minerals and Australian technology company Calix have executed an MOU covering the co-development of a “midstream” lithium chemicals refinery, using Calix’s unique calcination technology. 

Owned and operated by Pilbara Minerals, the Pilgangoora deposit is one of the world’s largest lithium resourcesThe proposed demonstration process will take fine, lower-grade spodumene concentrate and further process it on site using renewable energy to create a low carbon, concentrated lithium salt which can be further refined by others into lithium battery materials, or potentially used as direct feedstock for lithium iron phosphate (LFP) cathode manufacture. 

Calix’s core technology involves a new type of kiln which is highly versatile and able to be electrically heated, making it renewable-energy-powered. The Calix calcination process is particularly well suited to fine spodumene feeds, allowing lower grade concentrates to be successfully treated and renewably powered.  

Managing director at Pilbara Minerals Ken Brinsden said Calix and Pilbara Minerals have conducted calcination trials of Pilgangoora spodumene in its electrically fired BATMn reactor at Calix’s Bacchus Marsh facility 

“It successfully demonstrated high conversion rates, zero dust emissions and avoided any partial melting concerns,” he said.  

“With these promising results, we will now move to a scoping study phase to investigate installing a calciner and downstream processing plant at Pilgangoora to allow the processing of fine, low grade ore to produce lithium salt material for export overseas. 

The scoping study will run to late 2021, when Pilbara Minerals and Calix intend to build a demonstration facility that will have an annual production capacity of up to several thousand tonnes of lithium salt.  

They also plan to market and export the product from the facility, “on-shoring” significant value into Australia and avoiding the international shipment of tens of thousands of tonnes of waste material. 

This joint venture will cornerstone a full battery production supply chain in Australia. The project is in strong alignment with government strategies to on-shore processing and manufacturing, more sustainable mining and processing and critical minerals strategies for battery materials. 

Overall, the benefits of developing the process are: 

  • A higher recovery is obtained from the ore body, meaning less mine wastage 
  • A higher value product is produced in Australia, so more value is kept on-shore 
  • Significant waste is not shipped overseas by shipping a much higher lithium concentrate, lowering the cost of transportation and limiting wastage 
  • The project can connect to renewable power via an electric calciner, materially lowering the CO2 footprint in the envisaged novel lithium raw materials supply chain. 

Managing director of Calix Phil Hodgson said the company looked forward to working with Pilbara Minerals on the project for the hard-rock lithium industryas well as other mining and processing companies to improve their industrial processes 

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