Cobre Montana claims world first lithium breakthrough

THE BOURSE WHISPERER: Cobre Montana (ASX: CXB) has combined with technology provider, Strategic Metallurgy to announce a breakthrough in lithium extraction technology.

In what the company claims to be a ‘world first’, tests carried out on samples from the Lepidolite Hill deposit, located near Coolgardie in Western Australia {80% Cobre Montana and 20% Focus Minerals (ASX: FML)}, produced continuous, steady-state production of lithium carbonate, from micas, using hydrometallurgical processes.

According to Cobre the outcome for this process has not previously been achieved in the lithium sector.

The company claims its test protocols have demonstrated the ability to produce lithium chemicals from mica without the need for roasting.

The process used by Cobre in the testing involves ore being ground, digested in sulphuric acid, impurities removed from the solution, and the lithium precipitated as lithium carbonate.

“This achievement is a paradigm shift in lithium processing strategies as it removes the energy intensive roasting step that has made the commercial processing of such materials unachievable in the past,” Cobre Montana managing director Adrian Griffin said in the company’s announcement to the Australian Securities Exchange.

“We could not have wished for a better result.

“The plant stabilized rapidly and after a very short period of teething, settled into steady, continuous production.

“The ease with which this was achieved demonstrates the flexibility of the process, and the skill of the technical team that supports Cobre’s endeavours to establish a unique position in the global lithium market.

“The outcome also vindicates the company’s focus on the ‘forgotten ore’ – the lithium micas, and we will now prepare for the next step in the commercialisation of mica processing as a viable, and competitive alternative to other lithium production.”

Cobre considers the implications of these tests results were to be of some significance to the company, given it has access to ample deposits of lithium mica it believes to be amenable to this processing technique.

The company indicated it will continue the continuous testing, with its next run planned to process approximately 400 kilograms of ore, from which it expects to recover a large sample of lithium carbonate for market evaluation.

Cobre conceded the process needs to be extended beyond continuous testing and into commercial product evaluation to complete the commercialisation cycle.

It indicated this will commence with the production of lithium carbonate from Lepidolite Hill, scheduled to commence in June.

The lithium carbonate will be sent to end-users for evaluation and independent product endorsement.