Lithium mine developer British Lithium has produced first lithium carbonate from the mica in granite at its new pilot plant near Roche, Cornwall after a seven-month design and construction period.
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The company said late Jan. 4 that it would be manufacturing 5kg/day of lithium carbonate from early 2022, which was enough to demonstrate commercial value to customers.
It added that this was the first time lithium had been produced commercially from mica, with the pilot plant using its patented Li-Sep technology to extract battery-grade lithium from micaceous granite in a sustainable production process that allows chemical-free and low-energy production.
"New processes are normally piloted during the definitive feasibility stage but, as lithium has never been produced commercially from mica before, de-risking our proprietary technology is an important step in developing our project," British Lithium CEO Andrew Smith said.
He added that doing it in the current stage allowed the company to operate in real world conditions using actual site water and locally sourced commercial reagents.
"There's still a long road ahead in terms of refining and optimizing the process," Smith said.
British Lithium plans to begin building a full-scale plant once the process is full developed, with Chairman Roderick Smith saying that the company aimed to produce 21,000 mt/year of battery-grade lithium carbonate after ramping up operations over the next two or three years.
Seaborne lithium carbonate prices assessed daily by S&P Global Platts have climbed by 440% year on year to close at $34,300/mt CIF North Asia on Jan. 5.
"At the moment, we will be the only lithium producer in the world to be quarrying and refining on one site, which adds to the sustainability of the project," Smith said.
The pilot plant, which was funded by Innovate UK, incorporates all processing stages from quarrying through to high purity lithium carbonate production, including electric calcination at low temperatures, acid-free leaching and multiple purification steps including ion-exchange.
In August 2020, British Lithium was awarded a GBP500,000 ($655,635 at the time) Innovate UK Smart Grant from the UK government to advance its lithium mine project in the St. Austell area of Cornwall, where it has identified an ore resource of over 100 million mt in a former china clay mine.
It also received funding of over GBP2.9 million from the government's Sustainable Innovation Fund in March 2021 to build the pilot plant for its Li-Sep technology to extract battery-grade lithium from micaceous granite.
British Lithium is one of only two lithium mine projects in the UK. The other, Cornish Lithium, is targeting a production start within three to five years to produce at least 10,000 mt/year of lithium carbonate equivalent.