THE BOURSE WHISPERER: Lithium Australia (ASX: LIT) announced the development of a new hydrometallurgical process for the recovery of lithium from spodumene, which is currently the primary source of hard-rock lithium production.
Known as the Sileach process, LIT claims it will be readily adaptable to other silicate minerals and has been developed to reduce the cost of producing lithium chemicals from materials that have traditionally been roasted, with very high energy costs, to recover the lithium.
The company said independent laboratory tests of the Sileach process have achieved lithium extractions, from alpha spodumene, of up to 92 per cent in four hours.
According to LIT the Sileach process has the potential to release value from stranded lithium silicate deposits, or deposits otherwise quarantined by sub-economic grades.
The Sileach process can transform low-grade spodumene occurrences into viable ore as, due to lower projected operating costs, it is less sensitive to feed grade.
This will result in lower cut-off grades for resource calculations, expansion of existing resources without the requirement for further drilling, and greater recovery of metal inventories.
As the lithium is precipitated from solution in the Sileach process, all impurities in lithium silicate feed can be rejected during the production of lithium chemicals.
Spodumene, and other silicates, in which impurity concentrations would otherwise render them unmarketable, can now be considered viable process feed.
“The Sileach process is potentially to the lithium industry what froth flotation is to the base metals industry,” Lithium Australia managing director Adrian Griffin explained in the company’s announcement to the Australian Securities Exchange.
“In the early 1900s three out of every four tonnes of ore unearthed from Broken Hill went to waste dumps because the lead could not be separated from the zinc.
“The massive dumps would have entombed the mines heralding the end of production, had it not been for the advent of froth flotation.
“Hard-rock lithium faces a similar dilemma with energy intensive processes dictating what can and can’t be economically processed.
“Only high-grade spodumene concentrates, are viable under such conditions.
“The low-grade materials, be they spodumene or mica, have, in the past, been destined for the waste dumps.
“The Sileach process can change that by producing a cost-effective means of processing lower grade, or hitherto difficult to treat materials.
“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 is no shortage of lithium deposits or concentrating plants in the world but there is a massive shortage of lithium carbonate and hydroxide plants and Lithium Australia is focused on filling that gap with its leading edge environmentally friendly processing technologies.”