Reed Resources targeting hard rock lithium extraction: powered by battery market
ASX-listed Reed Resources Ltd is advancing the RIM lithium hydroxide (LiOH) project in Western Australia, comprising the Mt Marion mine and lithium production plant, which holds a 20,000 tpa LiOH capacity. Through its mission for the development of a vertically integrated business, the company is targeting the lithium ion (Li-ion) battery industry aiming to service electric vehicles and renewable energy storage solutions.
Because of its importance in lithium ion batteries, lithium is the most ergonomic of all metals: Without lithium cell phones would be the size of steel-toe boots, electric vehicles would be the size of trucks, laptops would be the size of desktops and electric toothbrushes would be the size of baseball bats.
The extraction and refinement of lithium has become one of the leading challenges for new technologies, powered by the demands of evolving technologies based on reliable sources of power. In 2013 alone, there was an increased demand for lithium by 6%, which serviced batteries, renewable energy, lubricant grease, medical applications, glass productions, ceramics and most importantly in almost all cell phones and computers.
Barclays recently downgraded the US electricity sector citing one of the causes as solar plus storage, stating: “Over the next few years (…) we believe that a confluence of declining cost trends in distributed solar photovoltaic (PV) power generation and residential-scale power storage is likely to disrupt the status quo (…) We believe that solar plus storage could reconfigure the organisation and regulation of the electric power business”. In everyday language this means that smartgrid and smarthome applications, which are emerging, may boost lithium demand to levels yet unpredictable because of the universal potential for the deployment of batteries by utilities and in homes. It goes like this: during daytime hours factories and households use lots of power but during night time the power usage goes down. In principle it means that utilities should unplug their generators. Right? But it is not possible to unplug a nuclear power plant, for example. Therefore there is arbitrage value in storing power produced during off-peak hours to use/sell during peak hours.
Such staggering growth potential attracts lithium producers looking to produce high quality lithium to meet demand though innovation. Historically, lithium has been extracted from brine. This involves pumping the brine into ponds and through natural evaporation caused by sun heat and wind, purifying the lithium. This may take up to two years to complete and the end product is not satisfactory in the face of growing competition for market shares. The brine extraction process produces low-grade lithium at 200-1400 mg/L unsuitable for use in battery applications. Currently 70% of the worldwide lithium production is through brine water evaporation. In contrast, Reed Resources Ltd is looking to purify lithium from hard rock to achieve higher purity. The results of a pre-feasibility study and a semi-pilot plant on its proprietary process flowsheet suggest the potential to produce high purity LiOH at lowest quartile operating costs. With this new approach the company expects to enhance supply security to its customers.
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Dr. Luc C. Duchesne is a Speaker and Author with a PhD in Biochemistry. With three decades of scientific and business experience, he has published ... <Read more about Dr. Luc Duchesne>