Calix Limited and Pilbara Minerals are developing a Joint Venture known as the Sustainable Lithium Chemical Concentration project (SLiCC project), following a successful scoping study conducted late last year. The purpose of the SLiCC project is to manufacture a low-carbon, high-quality lithium salt for global distribution using Calix’s patented technology. This will involve the construction of a demonstration facility at Pilbara Minerals’ Pilgangoora Mine Site, located two hours south of Port Headland in Western Australia. The Pilgangoora deposit is one of the world’s largest lithium resources and is strategically important within the global lithium supply chain.
Historically, ore mined at Pilgangoora underwent processing to manufacture a spodumene concentrate that was then shipped overseas for use in lithium battery production. The SLiCC project, however, moves lithium production to Australia by facilitating the processing of fine, lower grade spodumene concentrate followed by further chemical processing on-site to create a concentrated lithium salt.
In May 2022 the SLiCC project received grant funding of $20 million under the Australian Government’s Modern Manufacturing Initiative (MMI) – Manufacturing Translation Stream. The grant will support the design, procurement, construction and commissioning of the demonstration plant at the Pilgangoora Site.
Efficiency Traditionally, spodumene was treated using direct-fire horizontal rotary calciners requiring a two-hour bake time. The SLiCC project will utilise the Calix technology solution for minerals processing by treating spodumene via a rapid thermal treatment in an externally heated kiln.
External heating separates the material from the energy source, enabling good heat distribution throughout the calcination process. This facilitates the change in spodumene material from Alpha to Beta without the associated melting observed in traditional methods. Naturally, this simplifies lithium extraction.
Safer Export Product
Traditional lithium salt, lithium hydroxide, is highly corrosive. The Calix technology solution creates a safer lithium salt, being lithium phosphate. Lithium phosphate salts also provide two components of the fastest growing lithium battery chemistry – Lithium Iron Phosphate – chosen for all Tesla 3 cars made in China.
Reduced Waste and Emissions
Calix technology can treat very fine spodumene concentrates at lower lithia grades. Traditionally, lower lithia grade materials have been problematic for calcination using conventional direct-fire rotary calciners and have been disposed of as waste. The capacity to treat finer materials not only reduces this waste, but vastly improves lithium recovery.
The chemical concentration step is simplified under the SLiCC project. This allows for processing to be completed in its entirety at the mine site, rather than being transported elsewhere for processing. In addition, all the waste material is disposed of at the mine site eliminating the need to ship overseas for disposal. As the Calix technology solution for materials processing produces a higher lithium content in the final product, shipping volume is reduced tenfold, thus vastly reducing carbon emissions.
Additionally, as the material is calcined using an external heat source, the entire lithium processing method can be completely electrified. This allows renewable energy sources to be used as a fuel source, eliminating fossil fuels from the thermal treatment process.
December 15, 2022