The Chinese and American owners of Talison Lithium have green-lit a $320 million expansion of its mine in the South West, the world’s biggest, which will more than double capacity. 

Talison last night said capacity would reach about 1.34 million tonnes lithium concentrate annually when a second production facility at Greenbushes was completed in 2019. 

The project is planned to coincide with the completion by 51 per cent Talison shareholder Tianqi Lithium of a $400 million lithium processing plant in Kwinana. 

The other shareholder is US chemical company Albemarle. 

“The expansion ensures Talison is well positioned to provide its shareholders with security of supply so they can meet the expected future growth of the lithium market,” Talison said. 

“More than 90 per cent of the project spend will be local to Western Australia with a commitment to utilise as much local content as possible.” 

Talison said about 200 contractors would be employed during the peak construction period and 40 to 60 operational jobs created. The producer expected to finalise the construction contract this month, with site works beginning in May. 

The project is awaiting approval from regulators. 

The new production plant would mirror Greenbushes’ existing facility. A second standalone crushing plant would also be built. “The expansion will provide substantial operating flexibility to meet future demand,” Talison said. 

The 1.34 million tonne capacity translates to about 180,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate equivalent. 

Albemarle Lithium and Advanced Materials President John Mitchell last month said the global market was about 190,000 tonnes LCE per annum. 

"This project is integral to our announced lithium expansion plans so that we can meet the growing needs of our customers," Mr Mitchell said yesterday. 

Earthworks have begun for Tianqi Lithium’s Kwinana processing plant, which the State Government said would have a capacity of 24,000 tonnes of lithium hydroxide per year. 

Lithium concentrate from Greenbushes is currently processed at plants in China, producing about 35 per cent of world supplies. 

Albemarle is understood to be planning a processing plant but whether it would be located in WA has not been finalised.

Image: Tianqi Lithium General Manager Phil Thick. The project is planned to coincide with the completion of a $400 million lithium processing plant in Kwinana by Tianqi Lithium. Pic Mogens Johansen, The West Australian