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Mineral Commodities looking to develop greener graphite purification process

Mineral Commodities Ltd. has won a grant to develop a commercial-scale graphite purification process to potentially be used at Japanese energy giant Iwatani Corp. subsidiary Doral Fused Materials Pty Ltd.'s West Australian plant.

Mineral Commodities announced Aug. 12 that it was successful in its application for funding from an Australian grants program for a project to develop a new environmentally sustainable and economic process for the production of high purity graphite in Australia.

The CRC project will be a collaboration with Doral and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, or CSIRO, with a total budget of A$2.6 million, of which the grant will provide 31% with Mineral Commodities, Doral and the CSIRO to contribute the remainder in-kind.

The plan is to develop and demonstrate an industrially implementable purification process for graphite concentrate to at least 99% purity, though ideally Mineral Commodities wants to exceed 99.95%, which is considered lithium-ion battery grade.

Mineral Commodities CEO Mark Caruso said in a statement that his company's success was impressive given that only about the top 20% of projects are funded in general across the government's Cooperative Research Centres Projects Grants program, with a much higher rate of rejection for first-time claimants.

SNL Image
Drilling at the Munglinup project.
Source: Mineral Commodities.

Under the project, CSIRO scientists will first develop an understanding of how the graphite impurities in Mineral Commodities' West Australian Munglinup project behave in the presence of various reagents and conditions.

The partners will then develop a more comprehensive process flow sheet to purify Munglinup's concentrate, and validate that flow sheet in a mini pilot plant CSIRO will build at its existing Perth research center.

A larger scale demonstration plant at Doral's fused alumina plant at Kwinana, Western Australia, would follow if all goes well.

Mineral Commodities' Group Technical Services Manager Surinder Ghag said in an interview on Aug. 15 that Asian markets would be the likely customer for the purified graphite material, and that would be later converted to battery anode material. The definitive feasibility study for the Munglinup mine is due in September.

Ghag said the demonstration plant could be replicated for the European battery anode market in Norway using graphite from the Traelen graphite mine and Skaland processing facility in Norway, which Mineral Commodities agreed to acquire in April.

Mineral Commodities has identified this downstream opportunity given current techniques for producing high purity graphite, done mainly in China, are based on using environmentally harmful fluoride-based reagents which also incur high processing and compliance costs.

Ghag also said that a major South Korean battery anode maker in June reviewed its five synthetic graphite processing operations and found that only one met the audit's requirements, particularly on the environmental side.

Thus Mineral Commodities' process will ideally be a replacement for graphite anode material produced via existing means from both natural and synthetic graphite, Ghag said.