Galaxy Resources is replacing some of the fibreglass pipes at its Jiangsu lithium carbonate plant with stainless steel sections to ensure the risk of another freak fatal explosion is minimized.
An investigation into the rupture of a U-bend section in November has concluded that on the shutdown of the plant, an abnormal and unexpected blockage in the vertical crystallizer section held up a mass of sodium sulphate liquid which caused the pipe to explode when it was released. Due to the highly abnormal nature of the incident, the risk of this type of incident was not identified by the plant’s designers in their design documentation or safety studies.
China’s Safety Bureau has also conducted an independent investigation and agrees with the company’s root cause analysis and its plans to replace the section of pipeline with stainless steel segments with additional load support. This replacement work will be completed by early February, allowing the plant to recommence operations once authorities have signed off on the upgrade.
Two employees have died as a result of their injuries from the explosion. Galaxy says it is continuing to support their families, employees and contractors during this time.
The company has used the plant shutdown to make further modifications at the site, aimed at improving operability and throughout rate upon recommencement of production. A complete Hazard and Operability (HAZOP) review has been conducted on the entire operation to ensure complete and ongoing safety of the plant before re-commencement of operations. “Safety continues to be a paramount priority at Jiangsu,” says the company’s managing director Iggy Tan.
Galaxy achieved a record of 2 million man hours without a Lost Time Injury (LTI) during the Jiangsu construction, commissioning and operation of the plant before the incident.
Other shutdown activities, including the kiln dry out process, are proceeding on schedule, and the company expects to be ready for plant recommencement in the next two weeks.
In December 2012, Galaxy sold 213 tonnes of product and recorded revenue of Aus$1.3 million. The remaining inventory of around 70 tonnes is expected to be sold in coming weeks. Galaxy had achieved continuous lithium carbonate production and plant stability after achieving first production at Jiangsu in July 2012. It is the first fully-automated lithium carbonate plant in China and one of the most highly sophisticated plants of its kind in the world.