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Talison Lithium mulls Greenbushes expansion

15 May 2018 14:50 (+01:00 GMT)
Talison Lithium mulls Greenbushes expansion

Johannesburg, 15 May (Argus) — Talison Lithium, which operates the Greenbushes lithium mine in Western Australia, is mulling a multi-million dollar expansion that could double its lithium concentrate output to 2.3mn t/yr by 2021.

Owned by China's Tianqi Lithium and US-based Albermarle, Talison has submitted applications for the expansion with the Department of Environment and Energy. If the company receives approval, it expects to make an investment decision in July and start the development of a new processing plant by the end of this year, with first output expected in 2020.

The proposed expansion is on top of a A$320mn ($240mn) expansion already under way, which is expected to be completed by April next year. Greenbushes is the world's biggest hard rock lithium mine. Talison also has lithium brine operations in Chile.

Output from the proposed expansion would provide feedstock for lithium hydroxide plants being developed in Western Australia and for continuing lithium concentrate exports to China, where the material is processed into lithium carbonate or lithium hydroxide for electric vehicle and energy storage batteries.

Tianqi Lithium is developing a 48,000 t/yr lithium hydroxide plant that is expected to come on stream towards the end of this year. Albermarle previously said it was considering the development of a lithium hydroxide plant near Bunbury in Western Australia with initial output of 40,000 t/yr, potentially growing to 100,000 t/yr by 2025.

The Greenbushes mine expansion is expected to take place in two stages and will include two processing plants, a crusher, an enlarged tailings dam and an expanded waste dump.

The expansion is needed to meet growing global demand for lithium concentrate and downstream products such as lithium hydroxide, Talison said in its environmental submission.

This year at least three new lithium concentrate operations in Western Australia will start exporting lithium concentrate to China. Tawana and Alliance Mineral Assets exported the first shipment of spodumene from their Bald Hill mine to China earlier this month, while Pilbara Minerals and Altura Mining will begin exports from their projects in the Pilgangoora region within the next few months.

The Mt Holland joint venture between Chile's SQM and Perth-based Kidman Resources has earmarked a site for downstream lithium conversion from its Earl Grey deposit, where a mine and processing plant are under development.

Mineral Resources, which owns the Wodgina lithium mine and is a major investor in the Mt Marion mine, is building a concentration plant to add value to its direct shipping lithium ore. It is considering building a downstream conversion plant to further increase the profit margin of its mining and processing operations.

Western Australia's minister for mines and petroleum, Bill Johnston, told a battery metals conference in March that the state is aiming to become a global hub for lithium mining and downstream conversion, as well as a source of other battery metals such as nickel, cobalt and vanadium.

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