New bulk sample tests were undertaken at the laboratories of ANSTO Minerals (a division of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation) in Sydney, Australia, in a move that, potentially, could see waste material used to commercially enhance Western Australia’s (WA) ranking as the world’s largest lithium producer.

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Powering the world through waste

The tests, at a new and specially built facility at ANSTO’s Lucas Heights laboratories, were initiated by Perth-based Lithium Australia, which specialises in the development of processing technologies that deliver sustainable and ethical supply solutions to the battery materials industry.

Lithium Australia conducted tests on concentrates derived from lithium mica, long considered waste material by the mining industry. The mica, sourced from one of two sites in WA’s eastern Goldfields region, was assessed for its suitability as base feedstock for the company’s proposed LSPP, on which work is anticipated to commence early in 2019.

According to Lithium Australia, WA’s world-class ‘Lithium-fields’ host abundant pegmatites, many of which contain lithium micas.

The company’s pursuit of potential feed sources for its LSPP has already identified lithium mica deposits in France and Germany, as well as the two deposits in the eastern Goldfields region.

In Germany, a maiden resource has been defined under Lithium Australia’s strategy to develop high-specification cathode materials and lithium-ion battery recycling technologies.

Lithium Australia managing director Adrian Griffin confirmed that the company had undertaken substantial bench-scale test work on lithium micas sourced from its 80 per cent-owned Lepidolite Hill deposit in the eastern Goldfields.

“However, far less test work has been carried out on a second lithium mica-style Goldfields deposit, designated Waste2. Early laboratory tests show that concentrates produced from Waste2 have metallurgical characteristics that vary from other micas tested,” Mr Griffin continued.

“This is because the Waste2 concentrates are a mixture of muscovite (a common, low-lithium-content mica) and lepidolite (a common lithium mica).

To help complete the final design parameters for the LSPP, a bulk concentrate from Waste2 was produced via froth flotation, undergoing testing at the newly constructed facility at Lucas Heights, which is based on Lithium Australia’s proprietary SiLeach® processing technology.

“This plant reflects our latest SiLeach® operating conditions, including recovery of lithium by phosphate precipitation”, said Mr Griffin.

In September, the company announced that Stage 1 of SiLeach® pilot plant trial achieved 94 per cent lithium extraction on a continuous run, with Stage 2 commencing on time and producing lithium phosphate within 16 hours of start-up.

That same month, Lithium Australia recommissioned VSPC’s Brisbane cathode powder plant that produces cathode material for use in the production of lithium-ion batteries. The facility is Australia’s only cathode powder pilot plant and battery-testing facility.

Having completed a number of pilot-plant production runs, samples for lithium-ion battery-cell were produced for battery-cell makers in China.

According to company reports, in-house testing confirmed the high capacity of VSPC’s LFP cathode material.

“We are convinced that VSPC’s elegant solution to increasing lithium-ion battery efficiency is the best available for the production of LFP cathode powders”, said Mr Griffin.

“The technology also has applications in catalyst and medical fields. Independent tests have already shown that VSPC cathode powders out-perform industry benchmarks – a compelling reason for cell makers to use VSPC material.”