Australia’s Pilbara Minerals said on Tuesday it has signed a deal with minerals technology company Calix Ltd to explore lithium salts production that would lower emissions generated to manufacture battery raw materials.
Australian lithium producers have been announcing expansion plans as prices for the raw materials used in electric vehicle batteries soar.
The preliminary deal would make value-added salts by heating hard rock lithium concentrate known as spodumene in an electric furnace, which could be powered by renewables.
Australian spodumene is typically shipped to customers in Asia, where it is converted into battery chemicals through a roasting process typically powered by fossil fuels.
Australian hard rock lithium accounts for around half of the world’s supply.
In contrast, South American producers use evaporation to produce lithium from salt lakes that generates a lower carbon footprint, just as automakers and regulators in Europe take a deeper look at carbon emissions across their supply chains.
“Those that call the hardrock supply chain as being overly carbon intensive called it too early,” Pilbara Chief Executive Ken Brinsden said.
“There is a lot more innovation that is coming to the table because we are a relatively young industry,” he said, noting that Western Australia’s Pilbara region is rich in renewable resources such as solar and wind energy.
Pilbara plans to license the technology if it’s successful, and Australian production of lithium salts could hit 500,000 tonnes by 2030 and that could represent a “multi-billion-dollar export value opportunity for Australia.”
The company produces around 330,000 tonnes of lithium in concentrate, and plans to reach a target of 1 million tonnes after a series of phased expansions in the coming years. It plans to sell up to 400,000 tonnes of supply in coming years on a purpose-built exchange in a bid to boost margins.
Pilbara hopes to finalise its downstream hydroxide plant with South Korea’s POSCO this quarter, Brinsden said. The Australian company had said last December that it will buy the lithium assets of troubled peer Altura Mining Ltd.