Conference Wrap Up

3 September 2020

Lithium and Battery Metals Digital Conference 2020 Wrap Up

Despite the recent disruptions caused by COVID-19, delegates from over 12 countries participated in the first Lithium and Battery Metals Digital Conference on 18-26 Aug 2020, organised by AusIMM and Murdoch University. All of the keynote speakers highlighted the need for sustainable development of mining and processing industries related to lithium and battery metals and green energy. Janine Herzig (President, AusIMM) welcomed all delegates and conveyed the mission of AusIMM to shape careers, develop leaders, create communities, uphold standards and support a better, safer more sustainable industry now and generations to come.

Professor Eeva Leinonen (Vice Chancellor, Murdoch University) also welcomed delegates and said that Murdoch University is delighted to partner with AusIMM in organising the annual lithium conference in 2018, 2019 and the first digital conference in 2020. Murdoch University has been training graduates in mineral processing and extractive metallurgy over the last four decades. Murdoch’s Harry Butler Research Institute focusses on water, energy, environment, biodiversity, biosecurity and aquatic echo systems, as well as secondary extraction, cleaner and portable battery and storage of energy to develop a more sustainable society.

Honourable Bill Johnston MLA (Minister for Mines and Petroleum, Energy and Industrial Relations) reiterated that Australia is a key player in the global battery minerals market, despite recent brakes on progress due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Western Australia has produced highest grade lithium minerals at Greenbushes over the last three decades. The battery mineral sales from WA in 2019 exceeded $7billion.

The keynote speakers presented the latest information on current and future market of lithium and battery metals and explored the investment, economics and risks, battery minerals and brines, exploration, geology and mineralogy, metallurgical processing, environmental safety and recycling. The final session concluded with new developments in batteries, capacitors, energy storage and data science. The key message is that lithium batteries will be the dominant source of energy for electric cars, commercial vehicles and power tools which will go hand in hand with renewable green energy technologies to assist in creating a cleaner climate.

The keynote speakers and panel members included Prof Ray Wills (Future Smart Batteries), Andrew Mackenzie (Envirostream), Dr Chris Vernon (CSIRO), Dr Stephen Grocott (Pure Minerals), Jessica Robinson (Critical Minerals Facilitation Office), Paul Bloxham (HSBC), Jeffrey Haworth (DMIRS), Ashley Brown (KPMG), Marina Yakovleva (Livent), Jeremy Chang (SCT), Craig Heidrich (APozA), Prof Jacques Eksteen (FBICRC), Andrew Bloodworth (BGS), Hamutal Ben Bassat (Nano One). The conference delegates had the opportunity to engage in a live Q&A discussion with the keynote speakers each day of the conference.

Jeffrey Haworth mentioned that $1 million invested on the Exploration Intensive Scheme (EIS) for new mineralisation studies in WA has facilitated the generation of $23.7 million. Australia with 24 critical mineral resources, WA having 17 of them, is the logical place to look for minerals relevant to develop renewable and green energy technology (lithium, nickel, copper, cobalt, manganese, zinc, cadmium, lead, aluminium, vanadium, graphite and rare earth). The EIS will continue to find hidden resources using new technology and data strategies supporting the FBICRC, MRIWA, and MineEX CRC in exploration and upstream and downstream processing of minerals. The West Australian Government is keen to support innovative battery precursor production options to promote employment opportunities and add value to the economy.

Prof Ray Wills predicts the 2021 economy will be controlled by batteries as the fuel source (codeless growth) with battery powered cars, while the advancement of robotics and artificial intelligence will enhance the use of autonomous vehicles. According to Andrew Mackenzie, only 7% of the spent (waste) batteries are collected in Australia. He highlighted the importance of support from government (legislation for the collection) and processing of spent batteries waste to overcome the environmental issues caused by the growth in lithium battery waste to 187,000 tonnes in 2035. He also added that the usage of cobalt in batteries will grow from 61,000 t in 2018 to 367,000 t in 2028, so recycling in Australia can lead to an ethical supply of cobalt to the battery precursor industry.

Dr Chris Vernon noted that 60% of mined lithium ends up in lithium ion batteries and demonstrated how the value of $1 worth lithium in spodumene increases to $20 in a product drummed to export and $137 in a battery. Increase in solar energy usage, green technology, and the demand of ethical supply of battery metals is evident from the proposed first battery Gigafactory in UK which will create 3500 jobs, he added. Dr Stephen Grocott stated that his company (Pure Minerals) will import high-grade nickel laterite from New Caledonia and process using nitric acid in the low capital intensive Direct Leach Technology to produce battery grade nickel and cobalt sulfate, high purity alumina, hematite and magnesia. This process produces only low quantities of an inert filter cake and allows recycling of acid.

The effects of COVID-19 on the global economy is uneven, depending upon countries, according to Paul Bloxham. A bounce back is expected in 2021, although not to the pre-pandemic level in some countries. The recovery path will focus more on climate and energy policy as the global manufacturers are retooling for EVs. Ashley Brown forecast step changes and glocalization (delivered locally but effective globally), production of electro/battery chemicals closer to market/consumers and accelerated delivery and the need for smaller, lighter and quickly charged batteries. He also highlighted the need to act now to be globally competitive by giving incentives to attract foreign investments for world class operations. Digital integration and optimisation will contribute to increase the post-COVID supply chain for green and clean technology.

Marina Yakovleva, with close to 100 battery related patents against her name, gave a brief history of her company (Livent) and its contribution to battery and capacitor production. She explained the printable lithium technology developed by Livent highlighting its superiority in safety, scalability, capex and performance of lithium ion and solid state batteries. She also mentioned that 1kg lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE) corresponds to 1kW cell output. The forecast of 2.5 Mt lithium demand in 2029 make us all in the global community responsible for developing sustainable extraction and recycling of lithium and other battery metals in order to contribute to solid state battery technology over the next 5-10 years.

Jeremy Chang stated how the properties of spodumene feed such as particle size (mm or µm), moisture content (6-15%) and harmful elements (iron, potassium and aluminium) can affect the calcination, acid roast, retention time, grade and production capacity. He added the importance of saving energy as a key performer due to low market price of lithium chemicals, despite the high demand.

Craig Heidrich explained how the waste slag from iron and steel industry and ash from coal power plants are processed in his company to produce value added building materials. His view is that the increase in lithium production offers challenges as well as new opportunities to convert waste from lithium plants to value-added co-products or by-products to enrich economy and environment.

Prof Jacques Eksteen predicts that exponential growth in market and demand for lithium for cleaner energy future will bring new wave of employment where education, skills, training and R&D will play important roles. He added that the FBICRC projects will be up and running by mid-2021 and some projects will contribute to precursor and cathode manufacturing and battery supported mine electrification.

United Kingdom is the first country to announce net zero carbon economy within next 5 years. Andrew Bloodworth from the British Geological Survey described the work in progress to monitor mineral production, critical mineral resources/reserves and material flow in the world with focus on interaction, development, ethics and risk to supply chain for the EV industry.

The final keynote speaker, Hamutal Ben Bassat, described the latest trends with the different lithium battery families (NMC, LFP and LMN) with respect to automation, energy density, rechargeability, usage and range, if used in vehicles. The value of current global cathode sales will nearly double to $23billion in 2025. Ms Ben Bassat also highlighted that the three families of cathode materials offer different challenges and opportunities, while new families will also be added to the market.

All the presentations can be accessed by delegates over the next 6 months. If you did not attend the conference and are interested in accessing the presentations, please contact conference@ausimm.com.

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