The rise and rise of lithium

Mining development in the Eastern Gold­fields region is liter­ally helping to drive environ­mental change.

With a greater concern than ever before for limiting environmental impact, new technology is constantly being developed to be better and even greener.

And as the world moves slowly from gasoline driven cars to rechargeable electric and hybrid vehicles, it needs lithium to construct the batter­ies that power them.

However, there are not that many producers of lithium, either from mineral or brine sources.

As the need for lithium rises, it is put under pressure as currently one mine alone, Talison’s Greenbushes, supplies 69% of all lithium mineral to the world.

Two Eastern Goldfields projects are helping in meeting this rising demand for lithium.

Reed Resources’ Mt Marion and Galaxy Resources’ Mt Cattlin projects, located in the Goldfields region, are the only major lithium operations in Australia outside of Green­bushes, which is also situated in Western Australia.

And as Talison moves towards a merger with Salares and growth in Chile as well as looking into the extraction of lithium from brine, the focus is turning towards Reed and Galaxy and at the place they can take in the lithium supply market.

To date the price of lithium has been skyrocketing since 2000 as the demand for the mineral has risen, particularly from the Chinese, who are the world’s largest manufac­turer of lithium batteries.

This demand is only expected to grow, especially since the implementation of the world’s first Exchange
Traded Fund (EFT) focused solely on lithium.

Many in the sector view it as a positive step as it has highlighted the mineral’s growing appeal, particularly in the investment community, as the use of electric cars gains more momentum.

Speaking to Australian Mining, Reed Resources managing director Chris Reed said “previously much atten­tion wasn’t paid to either Mt Marion or Mt Cattlin as the two could not produce tech­nical grade product like Green­bushes, only chemical grade lithium, however as the projects have grown and begin
moving spodumene they have gained the interest of the Chinese battery sector.”

The Chinese “get about 90% of lithium feedstock for mineral conversion.”  

He went on to say that as Australia produces such as high amount of spodumene and is so close to China as opposed to brine which is predominately found in South America, the location has played a large factor in the development of the projects.

Spodumene is a lithium bearing material found in hard rock, which can be processed into lithium carbonate, and is currently the most commer­cially viable source for chem­ical and technical lithium.
This commercial viability has been a factor in less than 10% of lithium from brine sources being committed to mineral conversion.

“Currently Reed is going flat out on exploration and evaluation at our Mt Marion lithium site,” Reed told
Australian Mining.

Similar to the Mt Cattlin project, the Mt Marion deposit consist of flat lying pegamite with a grade of 1.3%.

It is aiming to assemble a modular processing plant by the end of this year, after which it will commission the plant and begin the first shipments of concentrated spodumene by the first quarter of 2011.

It expects to have a produc­tion rate of 17 000 tonnes per month of +6.5% Li2O concen­trate early next year.

Reed Resources Mt Marion project is located approximately 40 kilometres south west of Kalgoorlie.

Galaxy Resources is already a step ahead of Reed, having sent concentrate to the company’s facilities in China for converting into lithium carbonate, Galaxy managing director Iggy Tan told Australian Mining.

With its Mt Cattlin hard rock spodumene project located just outside of Ravensthorpe, the miner is aiming to produce 137,000 tonnes per annum of 6% Li2O concentrate.

Tan said that Mt Cattlin had an advantage over other Australian lithium producers as they are not yet involved in the downstream process­ing of lithium like Galaxy.

Despite the battering that the mining industry took following the downturn, Tan believes that lithium is one of the minerals that have made a strong recovery.
“Global lithium carbon­ate production has recovered significantly since the global financial crisis and is only going to increase further as the push towards ‘green’ trans­port solutions such as electric cars and E-bikes gained momentum,” he said.

Both Reed and Galaxy are utilising the port of Esperance to ship concentrate to China.

As Western Australia’s main metal export, iron ore begins to bear the brunt of the mining tax, lithium may well play a greater part in the development of the State, and in particular the Eastern Gold­
fields region.

To keep up to date with Australian Mining, subscribe to our free email newsletters delivered straight to your inbox. Click here.