World’s largest hard rock lithium mine to get bigger

Greenbushes lithium mine, about 250km south of Perth, is already the world’s biggest hard-rock lithium mine. (Image courtesy of Talison Lithium.)

Talison Lithium, a partnership between China’s Tianqi and U.S. group Albemarle, secured approval this week from the Western Australian Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) to expand the Greenbushes lithium mine in the southwest of the state.

The decision came with a series of conditions, including the protection of the threatened black cockatoos, which are unique to Australia’s south-west region.

Already the world’s largest hard rock lithium operation, the planned expansion would allow Greenbushes to increase lithium concentrate output to about 1.95 million tonnes a year, as demand for the key ingredient to build batteries that power electric picks up.

The A$516-million ($361m) expansion, announced last year, involves the construction of a new lithium concentrate plant capable of producing 520,000 tonnes a year of chemical-grade lithium concentrate. It also entails a new crushing plant and the necessary infrastructure.

If it receives the nod from Western Australia’s environment minister, the last one needed, construction will start this year, with the new plant expected to be commissioned in the last quarter of 2020.

Albemarle, which holds a 49% stake in Talison, is planning a lithium hydroxide manufacturing plant, outside of Bunbury, capable of producing up to 100,000 tonnes per year of lithium hydroxide monohydrate from five 20,000 tonnes per year process trains and up to 1.1-million tonnes a year of tailings.

China’s Tianqi, which has a 51% interest in Talison, is constructing a 24 000 t/y lithium hydroxide plant in Kwinana, just 40 km from Perth.

Lithium carbonate prices have been drifting lower from the highs hit in 2017, but remain around the $10,000 to $11,000 level per tonne according to Fastmarkets MB, almost double the $6,450 per tonne at the beginning of 2015.