A proposal to construct and operate a refinery to manufacture battery grade lithium hydroxide has been given the go ahead by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA).
The 45,000 tonnes per annum Kwinana refinery, part of the Mt Holland project, has been recommended for environmental approval subject to strict conditions relating to greenhouse gas emissions and waste management.
Covalent Lithium aims to process spodumene ore concentrate to produce battery grade lithium hydroxide monohydrate, primarily for use in lithium-ion electric vehicle batteries.
Covalent Lithium is a joint venture between Australia’s Wesfarmers and South America’s Sociedad Quimica y Minera de Chile (SQM)
The spodumene ore concentrate will be sourced from the Mt Holland Mine, also known as the Earl Grey Lithium Project.
EPA chair Matthew Tonts said Covalent had identified several measures which would mitigate greenhouse gas emissions over the life of the project, including the use of efficient design and equipment technologies and the purchase of carbon offsets.
The EPA’s 2020 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Guideline requires a proposal exceeding 100,000 tonnes of scope 1 emissions each year to demonstrate its contribution towards achieving net zero emissions by 2050, in line with both the Paris Agreement and the IPCC’s 1.5 report.
The decision opens the doors to finalise the full funding of the project— Wesfarmers’ share of capital expenditure for the development of the project is estimated at AUS$950 million ($735 million).
Following receipt of all relevant approvals, construction of the mine, concentrator and refinery are expected to begin in H1 next year.
The first production of lithium hydroxide is expected in the second half of 2024.
An updated definitive feasibility study includes increased flexibility to provide for a second phase of the project to expand production capacity at Mt Holland and the Kwinana refinery.
Preliminary work to evaluate expansion options will commence in parallel with the construction of the first phase of the project.