An innovative ‘mid-stream’ refining process for sustainable lithium, developed in a joint venture (JV) between Calix and Pilbara Minerals, moved a step closer following a successful financial investment decision on a demonstration plant at Pilbara Minerals’ Pilgangoora Project.
The demonstration plant will use Calix’s patented electric calcination technology and is supported by $20m in Australian Government funding announced under the Modern Manufacturing Initiative.
“We are delighted that the Project has passed the FID milestone, and we thank the Australian Government for their support.
Together, we look forward to demonstrating the potential of our electric calcination technology to dramatically reduce the carbon footprint of Australian lithium. The success of the joint venture will also showcase the opportunity of combining Australian mineral and renewable resources with innovative Australian technology to enable the reliable and sustainable supply of value-added critical minerals to the world.”
“Following further studies and pilot test work, we are delighted to be taking the next step in our mid-stream strategy with the construction and operation of a Mid-Stream Demonstration Plant with our JV partner Calix.
The mid-stream strategy has potential to materially improve the battery materials supply chain for lithium through reduction in carbon energy intensity, reduction in transport volumes and creating more value at the mine site. It has the potential to be a game changer compared to the traditional spodumene to chemicals processing route.
The demonstration plant with Calix is an important step to further the development of the technology with the aim of commercialising the technology for application at the Pilgangoora operation and across the lithium industry through our commercialisation JV with Calix. This could in time open-up an additional revenue stream for the Company.
I would like to acknowledge the financial contribution of the Australian Government to the demonstration plant project through a $20M Modern Manufacturing Initiative Grant. It’s great to see the Australian Government supporting Australian innovation in the critical minerals industry.”
The proposed mid-stream refining plant is designed to show the potential for renewably powered processing of spodumene at the mine site. With a full production capacity of more than 3,000 tonnes per year of concentrated lithium-phosphate salt product from a feedstock of around 27,000 tonnes per year of spodumene – including lower grade fine spodumene concentrate – the project aims to demonstrate:
Electrification of the mid-stream process, including spodumene calcining, can enable the use of up to 100% renewably sourced power and deliver a vast reduction in carbon emission intensity of the lithium product.
A concentrated and near zero-waste lithium product would allow waste material to be left at the mine site, providing further cost and emissions savings through reduced and simplified transport and logistics.
Lower capital and operating costs with Calix’s electric calciner compared with conventional calcining processes.
A lithium rich product produced at the mine site may enable more value to be captured onshore at the mineral resource.
Market engagement with participants in the battery and chemicals supply chain has encouraged the pursuit of the mid-stream product and confirmed that it has strong potential to be an improved lithium feedstock for the lithium chemicals industry. The strategy of producing a mid-stream product also has the potential to unlock remote global hard-rock assets that would otherwise be limited by long distances to transport infrastructure or customers.
Life Cycle Assessment studies commissioned by Pilbara Minerals analysed the carbon footprint of the proposed mid-stream lithium phosphate salt product, in addition to comparing β-spodumene produced via electric calcination and conventional rotary kiln calcination.
The study found that electric calcination powered entirely by renewable electricity would reduce the carbon emissions intensity of spodumene calcination by more than 90% compared with a conventional coal-fired rotary kiln, and by more than 80% when compared with natural gas.
Significant emissions reductions are also anticipated from the mid-stream product by avoiding the transport of waste associated with spodumene concentrate. Current practices involve shipping spodumene that is approximately 6% lithium and 94% waste from the mine site to be processed overseas. Production of a zero waste, concentrated lithium phosphate product would further reduce aggregate emissions across the lithium supply chain.
Demand for lithium to support the rapidly growing global battery market continues to intensify. With the battery market now expected to grow five-fold by 2030, governments around the world are seeking to develop sovereign capabilities and reliable supply chains.
Electrification of mineral processing and the use of locally sourced renewable energy offers significant opportunities for Australian producers to develop highly competitive and future proof downstream processing solutions. By doing so, producers can add value to minerals by converting low-value ores into high-value products, reducing emissions and rationalising supply chains.
Calix and Pilbara Minerals aim to develop an innovative pathway for Australia to become a reliable supplier of sustainably refined lithium to the world. Successful demonstration of the mid-stream process may lead to its commercialisation, with the JV able to license the technology to Pilbara Minerals’ commercial scale plants and the global spodumene processing industry.
 Based on cradle-to-gate Life Cycle Assessment studies completed by Minviro Ltd.: evaluating production of Lithium Hydroxide Monohydrate (LHM) from Pilgangoora spodumene concentrate using conventional calcination; and evaluating the production of lithium phosphate from Pilgangoora spodumene concentrate using Calix’s electric calcination technology. The assessments calculated the carbon footprint for the production of each chemical from the mine to the factory gate. A further study evaluated the product carbon footprint of β spodumene production via conventional and electric calcination. The studies did not assess further impacts from gate-to-grave, and therefore did not evaluate product use and end-of-life recycling and disposal.