French mining company Eramet will restart the construction of a lithium plant in Argentina, which had been mothballed in April 2020 due to COVID.
Eramet will hold a 50.1% interest in the plant, with Chinese stainless steel maker Tsingshan earning 49.9% by financing the construction. Tsingshan has committed to funding up to US$375 million for the plant, as well as providing the industrial expertise in plant construction.
Construction will begin in the first quarter of 2022, with operations being commissioned in early 2024, Eramet said. The plant will be able to produce 24,000 tonnes of lithium. A pilot plant on the site since 2020 has yielded lithium carbonate with extraction yields of 90%.
The emerging market for EVs and demand for a clean energy transition are providing the necessary requirements for restart of construction, Eramet said.
The construction of the plant will make Eramet the first European company to operate a lithium industrial complex, the company said.
Eramet's lithium extraction process uses an alternative method. Partnering with French institute IFPEN, Eramet developed a system to extract lithium directly from natural brine pumped from the aquifer located at the project. This yields a lithium-rich product. Eramet then puts the product through a concentration and purification process, which yields battery-grade lithium carbonate.
This extraction process leads to recovery rate of 85%, as opposed to lower recoveries with conventional processes. It also eliminates evaporation times required in conventional processes, while reducing the carbon footprint, Eramet said.
Eramet has had a lithium concession in the province of Salta, Argentina since 2010. Due to the size of the deposit, Eramet and Tsingshan may consider plant expansion down the line.
The companies first worked together in developing Eramet's Weda Bay nickel deposit in Indonesia.