Neometals advances integrated lithium plans

  • Market: Metals
  • 16/01/19

Perth-based battery metals developer Neometals is progressing its plans to become a fully integrated supplier of downstream lithium products as well as a recycler of used lithium-ion batteries.

It aims to finalise engineering design for its proposed 10,000 t/yr lithium hydroxide plant at Kalgoorlie, as well as advance offtake negotiations and gain necessary development approvals, in 2019.

Linked to the lithium hydroxide plant are plans to fast-track the commercialisation of zeolite production from the plant's leach residue. Zeolite's growing global applications include gas cleaning, molecular sieves, catalysts and water removals from gas streams. A pilot plant is planned for commissioning in the second half of the year.

The company will also accelerate plans to find partners and feedstock for its proposed lithium-ion battery recycling facility in Kalgoorlie. A 100 kg/d pilot plant is scheduled to be completed by the end of June, to be followed by the design of a 50 t/d plant.

In a presentation to the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Battery & Energy Storage Forum, Neometals said that despite lithium price deterioration and poor sector returns in 2018 "we have strong conviction in the long-term electric vehicle and energy storage systems thematic."

The company sold its 13.8pc stake in the Mt Marion lithium mine to its partners, Australia's Mineral Resources and China's Ganfeng Lithium, for A$104mn ($75mn) towards the end of last year. But it retained its rights to 57,000 t/yr of lithium concentrate, which will comprise most of the feedstock for its lithium hydroxide plant.

A definitive feasibility study on the lithium hydroxide plant should be completed in the second quarter of 2019, along with a final investment decision. Plant construction is planned for 2021 or 2022 with commissioning in 2023 to meet rising demand for lithium hydroxide from battery manufacturers.

While several other Australian and international companies have plans for lithium hydroxide plants, Neometals may have a unique facility if its battery recycling plans come to fruition. Existing battery recycling plants focus mainly on recovering base metals, leaving behind metals such as lithium and cobalt.

"Less than 5pc of lithium-ion batteries are truly recycled with the majority of recycling only recovering base metals with a yield of 40-50pc," Neometals said, adding that it is developing a process flowsheet to recover multiple metals from lithium-cobalt oxide (LCO) and nickel, manganese, cobalt (NMC) batteries.

Its business model is to initially focus on partnerships with automakers and battery manufacturers to recycle off-specification battery cells that fail quality assurance and control.

Neometals is also nearing completion of a definitive feasibility study on its Barrambie vanadium-titanium project in Western Australia, one of the world's highest-grade hard rock vanadium projects.

Vanadium prices have rebounded strongly in the past two years because of under-supply and increasing demand from steel and energy storage markets.


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