LONDON, Jan 14, 2019 /PRNewswire/ --
Due to their large reserves and low cost structure, Chilean lithium brine operations have long been the mainstay of global lithium supply. But the emergence of Australia as a powerhouse in hard rock mining has prompted evolution of the supply chain.
Major lithium producers which have previously been strongly involved in South American brine operations are now investing in Australian spodumene projects to strengthen their foothold in a burgeoning downstream market.
Brines are the long-established source of lithium…
Brine operations have historically dominated global lithium supply, particularly in South America where over 60% of global reserves are hosted. These deposits have been producing for a long time and typically have lower operating costs than hard rock mines.
…but brine players are now investing in spodumene mines
Strong lithium prices and large market deficits of recent years have prompted significant investment in hard rock lithium mining by brine producers. This has been particularly prevalent in Australia, where all of the country's output comes from spodumene-bearing pegmatite deposits and is ideally located to supply China's refinery sector.
One such example is Albemarle. Traditionally a brine operator of the Silver Peak and La Negra brine operations in the USA and Chile respectively, the company has entered into an agreement with Australian hard rock lithium miner Mineral Resources for the creation of a 50/50 joint venture to operate the Wodgina spodumene mine in Pilbara. The plant will be commissioned in three 250,000 t/y stages with the first two modules scheduled to be in operation in Q2 2019 and the third stage in Q3 2019. The firm also holds a 49% stake in Talison Lithium which runs the Greenbushes operation, Australia's incumbent spodumene mine.
This deal comes after Chilean brine producer SQM in 2017 purchased a 50% stake in the Earl Grey spodumene operation in Mt Holland, Western Australia. The project is being developed with Kidman Resources.
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