Lithium Australia NL has been actively researching lithium extraction from hard-rock sources, expending over $12 million during that period. The research led to the development of the LieNA process.
Designed specifically to cope with low-specification spodumene (spodumene being the principal lithium ore mineral) that is otherwise difficult to process, LieNA therefore offers access to vast quantities of lithium currently discarded by producers of spodumene concentrate because it cannot be processed commercially via conventional techniques.
The company’s drive for battery-material sustainability, security of supply chains and development of a processing option that accords with high ESG standards has earned it government recognition, evidenced by federal co-funding – through a Co-operative Research Centres Projects (CRC-P) grant – for the construction and operation of a pilot plant for the LieNA process.
Many spodumene concentrate producers operating in Australia are taking a keen interest in the process. LieNA, which was designed and developed by Lithium Australia with the assistance of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), is a caustic conversion process that recovers lithium from fine and/or low-quality spodumene. Bench-scale tests have demonstrated its ability to process material that cannot be handled by conventional ‘converters’ that rely on roasting and acid leach. Unlike LieNA, such conventional processes are neither amenable to fine feed material nor tolerant of impurities.
At present, recovery of spodumene to commercial concentrates in a form suitable for conventional converters may result in 30 to 50 per cent (or more) of mined lithium being discharged into tailings dams. Production of lithium chemicals for the battery industry from such waste material – the focus of LieNA – could significantly reduce mining costs, as well as the environmental footprint of such operations.
According to Lithium Australia MD Adrian Griffin, "Adoption of LieNA for mainstream lithium production potentially offers the owners of that technology greater control of costs in the lithium chemical supply chain. Through the ability to recover additional lithium from waste streams, the mining cost is spread over significantly higher production tonnages. Moreover, the ability of LieNA to produce lithium phosphate from spodumene as direct feed for the fastest growing sector of the LIB LFP market, without the need for further chemical conversion, makes it highly desirable in light of ESG considerations including a smaller mining footprint, greater sustainability, superior safety and an absence of conflict metals. There are good reasons why the Tesla Model 3 is going for LFP batteries in China ... and LieNA is aimed at servicing the fast growing LFP battery market.”