Lithium developer, Cobre Montana NL (ASX:CXB) has achieved a world first in achieving continuous production of lithium carbonate from micas, using hydrometallurgical processes. This benchmark paves the way for commercialization of the process which can be applied to many of the projects in which Cobre has an interest. Details of the ground-breaking achievement were released to the ASX on 20 May 2015 (attached).
The significance of Cobre’s recent success using a hydrometallurgical flowsheet lies in the very favourable energy balance. Prior attempts to recover lithium from micas have involved an energy-intensive roasting process prior to leaching. It is the energy requirement of such processes that render them commercially unfeasible.
In contrast the hydrometallurgical approach is energy efficient, has good by-product credits and a low capital intensity. Operating costs are estimated to be sub-$2000 per tonne of lithium carbonate produced, ranking amongst the lowest cost producers.
As the process is designed to exploit the most abundant lithium minerals, the lithium micas, implementation of this technology, on a production scale, may well be a disruptive event that changes lithium production strategies on a global scale.
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