IGO-Tianqi JV claims ‘Australian first’ lithium milestone

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Tianqi Lithium Energy Australia (TLEA), a joint venture (JV) between Australian miner IGO and China’s Tianqi Lithium, has produced what it said is the country’s first commercial quantities of battery-grade lithium hydroxide, or lithium hydroxide monohydrate (LHM), at its refinery in the Kwinana Industrial Area south of Perth in Western Australia.

IGO managing director and chief executive officer Peter Bradford said the JV has successfully and consistently produced battery grade lithium hydroxide at the Kwinana refinery using spodumene sourced directly from the Greenbushes mine about 250 kilometres southwest of Kwinana.

Bradford said onsite laboratory tests had confirmed that battery-grade specification had been met on 10 tonne of lithium hydroxide, produced consistently over several days. Samples have been sent for independent verification.

“We are delighted to announce this important achievement and we congratulate the joint venture team for their focus and professionalism through the progressive commissioning and trial production of Train 1 at Kwinana and the delivery of this important milestone,” he said.

“Vertical integration into downstream processing is a key plank in IGO’s strategy and we are proud to be involved in the first production of lithium hydroxide in commercial quantities in Australia. The joint venture’s interest in both the upstream mining asset at Greenbushes and the downstream refinery at Kwinana is emerging as a globally significant, integrated lithium business.”

Bradford said once the product samples have been independently verified, the product qualification process with offtake customers will commence.

The production of battery grade lithium is seen as a significant milestone for Australian mining and manufacturing as the sector expands to meet rapidly growing demand for rechargeable batteries, primarily from the EVs and energy storage system industries.

The Kwinana plant is to supply lithium hydroxide to customers including battery cell manufacturers in South Korea and Europe.

Image: IGO

Tianqi Lithium Kwinana chief operating officer Raj Surendran said the success at its Kwinana refinery shows that “Australia can value add to its minerals onshore as it enhances its reputation as a critical contributor to the production of batteries for electric vehicles and energy storage, which are absolutely vital for the decarbonisation of the world’s economy”.

“Today’s milestone proves Australia has the capability and expertise to transition from a ‘dig it and ship it’ minerals supplier to a downstream supplier of value-added product,” he said. “However, we also remain acutely aware that there is more work to do to establish the Kwinana plant as a reliable, significant producer of battery-grade lithium, starting with customer acceptance.”

Surendran said the first train at TLEA’s Kwinana refinery will now continue to ramp up towards its nameplate capacity of 24,000 tonnes of battery grade lithium hydroxide per annum. The next step in the plant’s ramp-up process is customer qualification, which is to be completed over the next four to eight months.

TLEA expects lithium hydroxide produced at the Kwinana plant will be containerised and exported from the nearby Port of Fremantle.

WA Energy Minister Bill Johnston said in a statement that TLEA’s success paves the way for further investments in Western Australia’s battery and critical minerals value chain, including in advanced manufacturing of cathode-active materials.

“This is not only a significant milestone for the joint venture, but also for Western Australia, and it is proof of the battery-grade materials we can produce locally,” he said. “Tianqi’s first-of-its-kind lithium hydroxide plant demonstrates Western Australia’s capacity for downstream processing in the battery value chain.

“As demand continues to increase for renewable energy storage and electric car batteries the government is committed to making sure Western Australia capitalises on its potential to be a world-leading producer of battery-grade materials.”

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