The LOH-MaxTM process produces high purity lithium hydroxide from lithium sulphate and was developed in 2019 in collaboration with the owners of Strategic Metallurgy Pty Ltd (“Strategic Metallurgy”). A binding exclusivity arrangement has been entered into with the developers of the process technology, whereby Lepidico has the right to use the process and sole rights for marketing the technology to third parties worldwide.
Why Lithium Hydroxide?
Many of the lithium chemical consumers that Lepidico is in discussions with regards off-take have provided feedback that they require lithium hydroxide rather than lithium carbonate. Furthermore, most new lithium projects that were financed in 2018 are designed to produce lithium hydroxide. These, among other factors led Lepidico to evaluate the process technology developed by the owners of Strategic Metallurgy for producing lithium hydroxide directly from lithium sulphate, an intermediate product of Lepidico’s proprietary L-Max® process. Lithium carbonate however, is expected to continue to be used extensively within the industry and as such Lepidico continues to evaluate new cost effective lithium carbonate processes that do not produce by-product sodium sulphate, as part of its research and development activities.
Why avoid producing sodium sulphate?
Much of the world’s new lithium chemical capacity, both committed and under study, sourced from either hard rock or sedimentary hosted deposits, employ sulphur based process chemistries that result in a sodium sulphate by-product. The sodium sulphate market is mature with annual demand growth estimated at just over 1% over the next five years, with most of this growth in China. Demand in many other parts of the world is in decline, in large part due to the shift from powdered to liquid detergents. Global sodium sulphate supply is expected to rise significantly as new lithium chemical capacity comes on stream over the next ten years. A risk assessment for Lepidico’s Phase 1 Plant identified sodium sulphate as a material exposure should demand growth remain stagnant and global production materially increase, thereby necessitating a disposal method be found. This led Lepidico to seek alternative process routes to making lithium chemicals from the L-Max® intermediate, lithium sulphate.
Why LOH-MaxTM ?
LOH-MaxTM provides an elegant solution to produce lithium hydroxide – which currently attracts a premium price compared with lithium carbonate and is in strong demand – from lithium sulphate, using conventional industrial equipment and without the production of sodium sulphate. As part of Lepidico’s Phase 1 Plant Feasibility Study, cost comparisons have been conducted for LOH-MaxTM versus the industry conventional process step to convert lithium sulphate to either lithium carbonate (which is employed by L-Max®) or lithium hydroxide. This work indicates that material reductions in both capital cost – estimated at more than US$10 million for 5,000tpa of lithium hydroxide – and operating cost should be achieved using LOH-MaxTM. Such cost advantages mean that LOH-MaxTM has application in the final processing of a broad range of lithium concentrates sourced from both hard rock, including spodumene and sedimentary hosted deposits. Accordingly, Lepidico sees opportunity for licensing this process technology to the growing number of lithium chemical producers.
The LOH-MaxTM technology is held within a special purpose vehicle owned by the principals of Strategic Metallurgy that developed the process. A provisional patent application for this process was recently filed with the Australia Patent Office. Lepidico has entered into a worldwide, binding exclusivity arrangement for LOH-MaxTM in exchange for Lepidico funding the development of the process.
In reviewing the engineering for the Phase 1 Plant Project, completed by Lycopodium in December 2018, a proportion of re-work will be required to integrate the LOH-MaxTM process. Strategic Metallurgy is developing the process design criteria for Lycopodium to finalise the design for the new circuit.