ANSTO industry partnership furthers lithium industry

ANSTO nuclear scientists and Lithium Australia Limited have developed a novel technology to extract more lithium from lithium mining waste, in a development said to be a game-changer for Australian’s lithium industry.

Lithium demand is being driven by the lithium-ion battery market with Australia supplying 60 per cent of the world’s lithium in the form of the mineral concentrate spodumene.

The conventional way of extracting lithium from spodumene is in a rotary kiln, which requires very high temperatures (>1000 oC) and can only recover between 50 to 70 percent lithium from the original ore.

The two organisations developed a process called LieNA, which involves an initial treatment of the waste spodumene with caustic under autoclave conditions to form a synthetic lithium sodalite which can be easily recovered.

Lithium is extracted and purified in relatively straightforward, hydrometallurgical processing steps and finally isolated as lithium phosphate, which can be directly used in manufacture of lithium ferro-phosphate batteries.

The new technology enables more than 95 percent of the lithium value to be realised, with vastly reduced energy inputs as compared to conventional processing.

ANSTO senior process chemist Dr Chris Griffith said that not only would the new technology improve the overall extraction, it avoids the energy intensive, high temperature step of conventional spodumene processing, and increases the sustainability of lithium operations world-wide.

Dr Griffith said: “Until now, it has been quite accepted by industry that a large amount of lithium is ‘lost’ during processing – we’re the first in the world to achieve such an efficient level of extraction.

“This technology really has huge potential for an industry which is integral to our transition to the electrification of transport, and ultimately to a cleaner and greener future.”

In 2020, Lithium Australia Limited was awarded $1.3 million from the federal government’s CRC-P Round 8 programme to progress the development of LieNA towards eventual commercialisation.

Lithium Australia CFO Stuart Tarrant said: “Upcoming ESG regulations are forcing the industry to consider ways to improve recoveries and shorten supply chains.

“If commercialised, LieNA has the potential to achieve both and as an outcome we have experienced
higher interest from lithium concentrate producers.”

Demand for lithium has reached record level highs and the amount of metal used has almost quadrupled in
the last decade.

Dr Griffith said :“Innovation like this puts Australia in a good position to move away from simply supplying a mineral concentrate to overseas converters as quickly as possible.

“It provides another avenue for Australia to maximise the value from our valuable critical and energy
mineral resources and allows us to conduct more value-adding downstream processing here in Australia.”

Picture: ANSTO

Subscribe to our free @AuManufacturing newsletter here.

Share this Story

Stay Informed

Go to Top