Kalgoorlie set to play major role in global lithium production

Riding the wave of State Government investment in battery-metal production, lithium miner Neometals recently revealed its plans to build the Goldfield’s first lithium refinery.

In a major economic shake-up for the Goldfields region, the downstream processing plant is expected to create more than 100 jobs and the capacity to produce an initial 10,000 tonnes of lithium hydroxide annually – a substance crucial to the battery-making process.

Announced during the Growing Kalgoorlie-Boulder Economic Development Conference in June, the new refinery will be situated 5km outside Kalgoorlie-Boulder township.

In coordination with the State Government and the City of Kalgoorlie, Neometals will sub-lease the 40-hectare site for two years, during which time it will undertake feasibility studies, before moving ahead with construction.

The lithium miner has entered into a memorandum of understanding with the city to receive critical infrastructure essential to the refinery’s success.

Speaking at the conference, Neometals Managing Director Chris Reed said the development could be the biggest game changer for the region since the construction of the Kalgoorlie Nickel Smelter in the 1970s.

“It will be a massive project,” he said. “It will be like when they put the nickel smelter there – there will be a new generation of jobs for Kalgoorlie-Boulder.

“It’s all about batteries for lithium. Traditionally it’s been used in glass and ceramics, but now it’s all about batteries and they are getting bigger.

“As lithium is not substitutional in lithium batteries, we need more lithium hydroxide, and it is easier to make the best-quality lithium hydroxide from rocks.”

The refinery will be fed by Neometals’ 13.8 per cent stake in the Mt Marion lithium project, the third-largest known deposit of lithium in the world.

“If you’ve bought an Apple product in the last year, there is a 50 per cent chance the lithium in that battery came from Mt Marion, 40km south of Coolgardie,” Mr Reed said.

“The opportunity for us is to supply lithium hydroxide into the west, because currently 70 per cent of the world’s lithium is processed in China.

“Australia has a very significant role to play – we are producing half the world’s lithium.”


State Government continuing to back lithium

Driven by Chinese demand, the current battery metals boom is unlikely to slow down any time soon, according to industry leaders.

Minister for Regional Development Alannah MacTiernan said Western Australia was well placed to become a global leader in the lithium industry.

“This is very exciting for the state,” she said. “We see lithium absolutely as the new gold. We are going to be one of the world’s largest producers of rock lithium.”

Drawing reference to last decade’s iron ore boom, Ms MacTiernan said the State Government wanted to handle the battery metals boom differently.

“This time round we don’t just want to be digging a hole in the ground, we want to be doing the value add,” she said.

With the State Government setting up a taskforce to drive the lithium production values across WA, Ms MacTiernan said this announcement was the start of a long-term plan to eventually begin producing batteries.

“We have put about $6 million on the table for research excellence around lithium and energy metals to ensure we are well placed for the 21st century battery boom,” she said.


Enhancing opportunities locally

While Kalgoorlie will remain predominately a gold mining town, City of Kalgoorlie Mayor John Bowler said it was important to broaden the city’s economic base.

“This a great boost for our economy,” he said.

“We’ve got gold, we’ve got nickel and now we’ve got lithium and cobalt. When you add to that base it strengthens you.

“We will be bending over backwards to make sure this is a successful project for our city and the state.”

The Neometals plant is the fourth lithium refinery announced for WA, with two sites planned in Kwinana and one in Port Hedland

Mr Reed said he was proud to be bringing the new venture to the doorstep of Kalgoorlie.

“We are going to process our lithium locally, so we don’t have to drag it 700km down to Kwinana,” he said.

“We can’t think of a more secure jurisdiction than WA when we go to sell our product to customers.”

A final investment decision for the refinery is due by the middle of next year, with Neometals hoping to then begin a two-year construction period, to be finished by 2021.

Image: The Mt Marion lithium project is located 40km south west of Kalgoorlie and is the third-largest known deposits of lithium in the world. Neometals.

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