The Kwinana lithium hydroxide processing plant project in Western Australia will be the most sophisticated in the world. 

Located 40km south of Perth and constructed by Tianqi Lithium Australia, the facility’s designed capacity is to produce 24,000 metric tonnes per annum of battery grade lithium hydroxide from spodumene.

Ahead of March’s annual WA Major Projects Conference, Tianqi Lithium Australia General Manager Phil Thick was quizzed on the various aspects of the project and how it can change WA’s economy.

Do you think lithium will be a major driver in the boost of the WA economy? What potential does it bring in regards to a resource boom?

Phil Thick: Exports of spodumene concentrate from WA have the potential to increase to several billion dollars over the next few years. But we are still very small relative to iron ore or LNG, but a significant new addition to our exports and, hence, our balance of trade for the state and country. Good timing as WA starts to recover from the end of the last boom.

Are there any innovative technologies being employed within the plant? Especially since the process to refine hard rock spodumene is more complex.

PT: Our new plant has similar chemistry and process to our existing plants but on a much larger scale that has never been achieved before. It has a higher level of automation and all bagging is done by robots to minimise risk of contamination and provide highest possible quality for our customers.

Why was the Kwinana site chosen to build a lithium plant over other locale options? What made the Kwinana site unique?

PT: WA was chosen due to proximity to our Greenbushes mine and due to customers seeking diversity of supply outside of China, which dominates processing currently.

Kwinana was chosen as the best location in WA due to availability of power, gas, water, reagents and a supply of experienced workforce locally.

How well prepared/equipped is Australia in meeting worldwide lithium demand and growth in terms of our skillset, resources and technology?

PT: Very well equipped in terms of skillset and technology for mining of spodumene and supply of spodumene concentrate; less well equipped for downstream processing. Tianqi has a significant advantage here due to experience in our China plants, but other companies will find it challenging as they/if they head into the processing area.

Mr Thick will be presenting on the Kwinana lithium processing plant at the ninth Annual WA Major Projects Conference on March 21-22 at the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre. There will also be expert panel discussions and specialised networking sessions.

Picture: The West Australian