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Lithium Australia NL (ASX:LIT) is focused on developing advanced lithium extraction technologies via its innovative Sileach™ process, making it the only company in the world with the capability of processing lithium silicate without roasting.
Using its disruptive processing technology for lithium recovery from hard-rock sources, the company has formed partnerships with other resource companies in both Australia and North America and is currently testing its technology on lithium deposits in Australia and other prospective locations.
Through its strategic partnerships, Lithium Australia is working to develop a substantial resource base for sustainable production – delivering battery-grade lithium chemicals at prices competitive with the world’s current lowest-cost producers.
ANSTO Minerals, a division of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization, operated a continuous pilot plant for Lithium Australia in October 2016, producing six kilograms of 99-percent pure lithium carbonate concentrate and provided further engineering design data for the Sileach™ process.
Lithium Australia’s partnerships also include working with Pilbara Minerals (ASX:PLS) to commercialize the Sileach™ process to use at the Pilgangoora project. Lithium Australia recently released highlights of a lithium pegmatite discovery at Lake Johnston in Western Australia, and announced a consolidation of lithium rights on two tenements held by Lefroy Exploration Ltd (ASX: LEX).
A recently formed partnership with MetalsTech provides Lithium Australia with significant equity and technology leverage across six highly prospective hard rock lithium projects in Quebec, Canada, and provided shareholders with a $1 million priority offer in MetalsTech IPO.
- Lithium Australia’s Sileach™ process provides commercial opportunities for newly mined materials and reduces the cost of producing lithium chemicals.
- The company aims to efficiently supply lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide, establishing processing hubs in areas with an abundant supply of lithium minerals.
- Lithium Australia has formed strategic partnerships in currently active projects worldwide.
- Pilbara Minerals (ASX:PLS) Pilgangoora deposit has a JORC 2012 Inferred Resource of 80.2 million tonnes at 1.26 percent lithium oxide. Lithium Australia has entered into a commercialization agreement with Pilbara for a major spodumene project.
- 100-percent ownership of Sileach™ and Liena™ advanced processing technologies.
- Venus Metals Corporation Ltd (ASX:VMC) – test work planned at Venus Metals’ holdings in the Pilbara region includes field inspections, data and observations.
- Focus Minerals Ltd – the company’s Sileach™ process is currently being evaluated using material from the Lepidolite Hill deposit, which is part of the Coolgardie Rare Metals Venture (‘CRMV’).
- Alix Resources Corp. (TSXV:AIX) – an exploration program for the Electra project in Mexico is slated to begin shortly.
Lithium Australia’s Sileach™ Process
Developed by Lithium Australia, the Sileach™ process has the potential to transform the lithium industry. It involves a unique halogen-based hydrometallurgical method of recovering metals from silicates. The process tailors the reagents required to dissolve the target mineral species, facilitating the recovery of lithium from spodumene and other minerals without the need for roasting – an energy-intensive and expensive step required with conventional processes.
The Sileach™ process has the potential to enhance the recovery of lithium from low-grade or contaminated spodumene and produce lithium carbonate at significantly lower operating costs. Implications for resource evaluation are far-reaching, as a lower operating cost base enables the use of lower cut-off grades in resource calculations. This could lead to the expansion of existing resources without the requirement for further drilling, allowing for more sustainable recovery of metal inventories.
Both energy-efficient and versatile, the Sileach™ process can produce lithium carbonate or hydroxide, as well as higher-level lithium chemicals. Although focused on spodumene, the process is equally applicable to other lithium-bearing silicate minerals. Until now, third-party ‘converters’ have undertaken the commercial recovery of lithium from mineral concentrates emanating from hard-rock deposits. Their refining methods are costly, since producing the concentrates involves roasting of the minerals and subsequent leaching. Integrating the Sileach™ process with primary hard-rock lithium production provides lithium producers with the opportunity to bypass third-party converters and sell a premium product directly into the battery industry.
The Sileach™ process is also expeditious, with independent laboratory tests achieving 92 percent lithium extraction from alpha spodumene within four hours.
According to Lithium Australia’s managing director Adrian Griffin, “The Sileach™ process will not only provide a commercial opportunity for newly mined materials but will also unlock the value of lithium minerals discarded in the past. There’s no shortage of lithium deposits, but there is a massive shortage of lithium carbonate and hydroxide converters. This is creating a supply gap. Lithium Australia is focused on filling that gap with its leading edge, environmentally friendly processing technologies.”
In March 2016, the Australian federal government granted Lithium Australia an Innovations Connections Grant. Under the terms of that grant, the company has partnered with ANSTO Minerals in optimizing the Sileach™ process for the recovery of lithium from silicates.
ANSTO successfully pilot tested the Sileach™ process in August 2016 at its Lucas Heights facility. High plant availabilities were achieved and more than 95 percent of the lithium contained in the ore feed was recovered to solution during the six-day run of the digestion circuit and later precipitated into high-purity lithium carbonate.
Currently, Lithium Australia is working to advance commercialization of the Sileach™ process via pilot testing on high-grade ore from Lepidolite Hill in Australia, as well as spodumene from the rapidly evolving Pilgangoora ‘hot spot’.
The Pilbara Region – Australia
Located 150 kilometers southeast of Port Hedland, in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, the Pilgangoora lithium-tantalum project is 100-percent owned by Pilbara Minerals. That company has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Lithium Australia to test the commercial potential for micas.
Working together to commercialize Sileach™ for use at Pilgangoora, Pilbara is supplying feed material for pilot testing at ANSTO and is sharing the initial operating cost. If pilot testing is successful, Lithium Australia will supply capital for a larger scale pilot plant while Pilbara will supply spodumene concentrate for the plant. The companies may then enter into a 50/50 joint venture agreement to build a production facility to process spodumene from Pilgangoora.
The Pilgangoora deposit has a JORC Resource of 80.2 million tonnes at 1.26 percent lithium oxide. Construction is scheduled to begin in Q1 2017, with first production anticipated by Q4 2017.
Lithium Australia has also signed an MoU with Venus Metals, initially to test the commercial lithium potential of Venus Metals’ holdings in the Pilbara region. Under the terms of the MoU, the company has paid a fee for exclusive access to the Venus Metals ground and will solely fund exploration over the project tenements in the first year following granting of them. Test work will include field inspections, data and observations across the entire project area and in the laboratory, in order to confirm the suitability of the lithium mica, spodumene and clay materials within the MoU area as a source for battery-grade lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide.
Pilot Plant Preliminary Results
ANSTO Minerals operated a second continuous pilot plant for Lithium Australia in October 2016. An initial pilot plant run in September 2016 demonstrated the successful application of the Sileach™ process for the extraction of lithium from lepidote ore from Lepidolite Hill. The second pilot plant campaign processed purified liquor generated in the first campaign and involved evaporation, recovery of lithium carbonate and recovery of potassium sulphate, which is being assessed as a potential value adding by-product. These steps were previously developed in a laboratory program performed by ANSTO.
The pilot plant produced six kilograms of lithium carbonate concentrate with 99-percent purity and provided further engineering design data for the Sileach™ process. The lithium carbonate concentrate will be used to produce high-purity lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide products for offtake purposes.
“Lithium Australia’s goal is to establish a low-cost lithium production profile – similar to the brine producers,” said Griffin. “We are very pleased with the results as reported by ANSTO Minerals, Australia’s preeminent expert in lithium extraction technology. This is another step in de-risking the commercialization of the halogen based Sileach™ process.”
Seabrook Rare Metals Venture – Australia
The Seabrook Rare Metals Venture, 80-percent owned by Lithium Australia and 20-percent owned by Tungsten Mining, consists of six exploration licenses on the shores of Lake Seabrook, about 60 kilometers northeast of Southern Cross and 10 kilometers southeast of Koolyanobbing, Western Australia. Tungsten mineralization in the area is associated with extensive skarn mineralization, which exhibits strong alkali metal halos similar to halos around lithium pegmatites identified further south.
In November 2016, Lithium Australia announced finding a strong lithium anomalism at Seabrook in Western Australia. A high-density soil geochemistry was completed using laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS). The lithium anomalism correlates with other geochemical techniques and the results pave the way for real-time lithium analysis for drilling to commence soon at the Electra project in Mexico. LIBS technology provides a convenient means of rapid, real-time, assessment of lithium for reconnaissance geochemical surveys.
LIBS was used to compare real-time lithium spectral data, with various geochemical signatures generated with field portable XRF equipment. Results show that the pattern of lithium anomalism determined by handheld LIBS reflects the areal extent and shape to field-portable XRF alkali metal anomalism, a good path for finding lithium.
Ravensthorpe Lithium Project – Australia
Lithium Australia’s Ravensthorpe lithium project, located 500 kilometers southeast of Perth, was acquired in February 2015 from Dempsey Minerals Ltd. The license area contains a significant portion of the Cocanarup Pegmatite Field, which hosts lithium and rare metals and forms part of the geological suite hosting the nearby Mt Cattlin lithium-tantalum project owned by Galaxy Resources in a joint venture with General Mining.
An exploration target of 525,000 to 1,281,000 tonnes and a grade range of 0.8 to1.2 percent have been identified. The main focus of an upcoming drilling program will be the mineralization occurring in the ‘Horseshoe prospect’, where Horseshoe #1 and Horseshoe #2 pegmatites have been identified. Additional mapping, rock-chip sampling and soil sampling are planned for the Phillips South prospect and also at the Deep Purple prospect, as is soil sampling one kilometer west of the Horseshoe prospect.
Pegmatite samples at the Horseshoe prospect includes assay up to 4.08 percent Li2O, confirming the presence of high-grade lepidolite. Soil geochemistry at the Deep Purple Prospect, suggest pegmatites continue under soil-cover, as anomalies extend to twice the length of outcrop. Mapping and sampling at the Phillips South prospect has identified at least two lithium pegmatites, one of which is mostly soil-covered. A Program of Work has been submitted to enable drilling of the Deep Purple prospect.
Lake Johnston – Australia
Lithium Australia identified lithium mineralization during reconnaissance exploration at the company’s Lake Johnston project in Western Australia, located about 450 kilometers east of Perth. Pegmatites containing lithium, rubidium and caesium were discovered, with rock chip samples showing up to 3.94 percent lithium oxide. Lithium occurs within abundant pegmatites emanating in the area from nearby fertile granites and intruding the adjacent greenstone terrains along brittle failures. Configuration is similar to a number of other Western Australia pegmatite occurrences, including the recently discovered Kidman Resources Earl Grey lithium deposit, about 70 kilometers west of the Lake Johnston pegmatite swarms. Similar discoveries have also been reported in the area by Poseidon Nickel.
Lithium Australia announced a consolidation of lithium rights on two tenements held by Lefroy Exploration Ltd. at Lake Johnston in October 2016. Five lithium prospects have been identified as the Whitten, Bulldog, Boundary, Trackside, and Floyd prospects. Twenty-one rock chip samples were collected and submitted for assay. The pegmatites are lepidolite rich, but also contain a number of other lithium minerals, including zinnwaldite which, in some cases, contains high levels of caesium.
“Lake Johnston has the right geological environment to produce abundant lithium pegmatites,” said Griffin. “It has large, fertile granites, adjacent to country rocks that have the most prospective physical characteristics for pegmatite emplacement. It is not surprising that our initial examination has revealed very prospective lithium pegmatites.”
Greenbushes – Australia
Greenbushes hosts the world’s largest lithium mine, located 200 kilometers south of Perth, the capital of Western Australia. That mine, operated by Talison Ltd, currently produces 40 percent of the world’s lithium requirements and is slated for expansion. The Greenbushes mine focuses on a single pegmatite within a swarm of many. Lithium Australia holds an 80 percent JV interest in exploration tenure containing numerous pegmatites adjacent to the existing lithium mining operations. The company has applied for exploration licenses close to the Greenbushes mine and, with the first now granted, exploration will commence over areas of identified pegmatites.
Lepidolite Hill – Australia
Lepidolite Hill is part of the CRMV, a joint undertaking between Lithium Australia (80 percent) and Focus Minerals (20 percent). This area of high-lithium pegmatites is located 15 kilometers south of Coolgardie, in the Yilgarn Craton region of Western Australia.
Prior mining at Lepidolite Hill left around 400,000 tonnes of lepidolite-rich material in waste dumps. Recent proof-of-concept processing by Lithium Australia delivered 99.6 percent battery-grade lithium carbonate purity. Subsequent testing demonstrated the ease of conversion of the carbonate to a high-purity lithium hydroxide capable of commanding a significant price premium.
The company’s Sileach™ process is currently being evaluated on material from this deposit. In March 2016, the Western Australia Department of Mines and Petroleum approved a program of works to recover up to 1,500 tonnes of lepidolite ore for pilot testing.
Bynoe Pegmatite Field – Australia
Lithium Australia was granted Mineral Exploration License 30897 in April 2016. The company has a 100-percent interest in the Bynoe project, located 50 kilometers south-southwest of Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territory. Until recently, exploration in the area was restricted and of narrow focus, with little work undertaken on lithium. Lithium Australia intends to identify and evaluate lithium mineralization within the property, with fieldwork expected to begin during the northern dry season.
Gascoyne Region – Australia
Lithium Australia acquired Lithophile Pty. Ltd. in July 2016, taking control of three lithium prospects featuring extensive mineralization and outcropping pegmatites in Gascoyne Complex, Western Australia. The prospects, located in a recognized area of high lithium potential, are located about 750 kilometers north of Perth.
Electra Project – Mexico
The Electra project is located in Sonora County, Mexico, which hosts the world’s largest lithium clay province. The company has a farm-in and JV agreement with Alix Resources. Exploration at Electra commenced in April 2016. Lithium Australia believes the key to success is beneficiating the lithium clay deposits to produce a feed grade capable of supporting the cost of subsequent lithium extraction techniques. It is likely that the techniques developed to commercialize the Electra project can be applied to other lithium clay deposits. Lithium Australia and Alix Resources will share in any intellectual property resulting from their joint development programs.
Lithium Australia and Alix secured drilling permits in October 2016, and environmental approvals have been granted for a 25-hole, reverse-circulation drilling program to test two targeted areas. Significant lithium-rich clay deposits were recently identified near the Tule Concession.
Lithium Australia signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement with MetalsTech in October 2016, ahead of the lithium explorer’s IPO. Providing Lithium Australia with significant equity and technology leverage across six highly prospective hard rock lithium projects in Quebec, the partnership also rewarded shareholders with a $1 million priority offer in the MetalsTech IPO. MetalsTech recently acquired LiGeneration Limited (LiGen), in which LIT was an early seed shareholder.
Under the agreement, MetalsTech has the exclusive right to use and apply Lithium Australia’s proprietary lithium extraction technologies (including SileachTM and LienaTM processes) for the processing of spodumene concentrate from lithium projects in Quebec.
“The Strategic Partnership Agreement with MetalsTech provides Lithium Australia with the opportunity to become a shareholder in a company controlling seven projects in one of the world’s most rapidly emerging lithium pegmatite provinces,” said Griffin. “In the longer term, licensing arrangements with MetalsTech provides potential for significant royalty income.”
The transfer of lithium rights from Lefroy Exploration was completed in October 2016 in a multi-commodity deal giving Lithium Australia access to most of the prospective Lake Johnston lithium pegmatite field, located in Western Australia. Lithium Australia has issued nine million shares to Lefroy in exchange for the lithium rights, while Lefroy issued three million shares to Lithium Australia for gold and nickel rights.
Adrian Griffin – Managing Director
Adrian Griffin’s extensive experience in the resources sector spans 35 years. During that time, he has held directorships in a number of private and listed resource companies and overseen the operation of large, integrated mining and processing facilities, including the Bulong nickel-cobalt operation in the late 1990s. Griffin also has substantial experience in the mining industry in South Africa, in particular as a founder and technical director of Ferrum Crescent Ltd, an iron-ore developer there. He was also a founding director of Northern Uranium and Potash West (developer of the KMax process to recover potassium and other metals from glauconite), and is a non-executive director of Reedy Lagoon Corporation. Recently, he was instrumental in identifying the global opportunity to establish lithium micas as a source feed for the lithium chemical industry.
Bryan Dixon – Non-Executive Director
Bryan Dixon boasts substantial experience in the mining sector and the management of public and listed companies. He previously held positions with KPMG, Resolute Samantha Limited, Société Générale and Archipelago Resources Plc. Dixon also holds non-executive director roles with Hodges Resources Ltd and Blackham Resources Ltd. In addition to being a chartered accountant, his expertise includes project acquisition and development, as well as financing and corporate skills.
George Bauk – Non-Executive Chairman
With more than 25 years in the mining industry, George Bauk is an expert in critical metals. Skilled in strategic management, business planning, the establishment of high-performing teams and capital raising, he has held senior operational and corporate positions with WMC Resources and Arafura Resources and was managing director of Indigo Resources (formerly Western Metals). Since 2010, Bauk has been managing director and CEO of Northern Minerals Ltd, overseeing that company’s heavy rare earth project in northern Australia. His role there included organizing a successful greenfields exploration program, obtaining government approvals for production and co-existence agreements with traditional owners, initiating a definitive feasibility study and establishing off-take agreements with international suppliers, as well as substantial fundraising, all of which has provided him with valuable exposure to critical metals markets. Bauk’s expertise is now directly applicable to advancing the activities of Lithium Australia.
Barry Woodhouse – Chief Financial Officer and Company Secretary
Barry Woodhouse has more than 25 years’ experience in the junior mineral exploration, mineral production, mining services and manufacturing sectors, for private and public companies in both Australian and other jurisdictions. This includes previous roles with a private lithium explorer operating in both Australia and Namibia. Woodhouse is a CPA and a Fellow of the Governance Institute of Australia.