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Abstract showcase: Lithium, Battery and Energy Metals Conference 2022

· 2000 words, 6 min read

Together with Murdoch University, AusIMM’s Lithium, Battery and Energy Metals Conference 2022 (Perth and online, 14-15 September) is set to explore the latest research, developments and innovative technologies relating to lithium and its expanding market.

With the chance to hear from international keynote speakers, an outstanding technical program and panel discussions, delegates will also gain insights from expert industry professionals on focused technical presentations.

With over 30 abstracts on offer at the conference, why not get a head start by checking out a selection of the content on offer below.  

The key to unlocking the potential of WA lithium projects

Stephen Barber, Exploration Manager, Aldoro Resources

Stephen is a qualified Geologist, B.Sc.Hons from the University of Queensland, Australia, with 30 years of exploration and mining experience. 



In recent years there has been a rapid global transition to green energy as mining companies attempt to reduce carbon emissions and decarbonise their assets. The lithium industry has experienced strong economic growth since 2010, due to the increased demand for electric transportation and the need for stationery storage of renewable wind and solar energy sources.

The presence of lithium in spodumene-bearing pegmatites has created opportunities for mining companies in Western Australia, however, as this is a ‘concave’ commodity these projects have tended to be underfunded during the exploration phase. This has led to stalled progress of projects and short-cuts being taken during fast-track development timed to overlap with lithium boom cycles, leaving companies undercapitalised at the bankable feasibility stage, making it difficult for them to raise debt capital, and if it is raised increasing corporate risk during the early stages of mining.

Case studies of lithium projects indicate two common causes of ‘concaveness’, inexperienced management and a lack of relevant professionals being present during the exploration, scoping, feasibility, and development phases. The case study projects recorded poor ore recovery during initial mining, and subsequently required considerable plant modifications to improve the quality of the ore concentrate, whilst struggling to be profitable and provide the anticipated returns on equity for investors and shareholders.

Lithium companies in WA now have an opportunity to learn from the efforts during the 2010-12 and 2016-18 lithium booms, and make strategic changes in how to approach exploration, including a rethink on the methodologies used by explorationists, and a revaluation of those required and the skill sets needed to identify amenable orebodies. The time has arrived to search for experienced management and skilled professionals, who through the application of advanced technology to evaluate process mineralogy can change their thinking away from lithia grade to the notion that “spodumene is king”.

Relationship between soil textural analysis and water stress in brine extraction

Jose Gustavo de Castro Alem, CEO and Founder, Mineria Positiva S.R.L.

Jose is a chemical engineer, and has an MBA, Master in Strategic Consulting with vast experience in executive positions in mining companies. 



Fresh water in the Puna region is a scarce and valuable resource. In terms of environmental impact, the study of water stress, linked to the use of fresh water for mining operations and the overexploitation of brine for lithium production, is relevant.

The objective of this work is to integrate soil and brine properties to provide a qualitative and quantitative analysis of phreatic evaporation and, therefore, to evaluate the ability of a salar to compensate for long-term water stress from extraction. A physical model was developed to quantify long-term evaporation responses to changes in the water table, using brine, climate, and soil parameters. The adjustment parameters of the retention curve of each soil were estimated using three textural classes as initial data: Sandy, Sandy Loam and Sandy Loam.

The results show that the relationship between evaporation and the water table depends on the parameters of the retention curve and the saturated hydraulic conductivity. Coarse-textured soils with a deep water table and a short capillary fringe have a narrower evaporation window and are therefore more effective at mitigating abstraction water stress. On the other hand, fine-textured soils, with a thicker capillary fringe, maintain evaporation for larger extraction values, resulting in a higher risk of water stress.


Lithium recovery from high grade, low grade and altered spodumene ores

Johannes Chischi, PhD Student, Murdoch University

Johannes is about to finish his PhD, focusing on the mineralogical and chemical properties of spodumene ores and concentrates with the aim to lower impurities and improve Li-recoveries.



The conventional process for extracting lithium from spodumene includes decrepitation, sulphuric acid baking and water leaching. Early process development has mainly relied on material from a single mine and the process is thus designed for concentrates of specific mineralogical and chemical composition. Yet, the predicted growth in lithium demand for battery manufacturing requires lithium extraction from lower grade sources. It is thus critical to understand how low grades and alteration of spodumene affect the lithium extraction process.

Here, we characterise low and high-grade spodumene ores and concentrates of different alteration stages from the Greenbushes, Bald Hill, and Mount Marion pegmatites in Western Australia and investigate their behaviour during conventional lithium extraction. Calcination at 1050 °C and 60 min. results in full conversion to β-spodumene for the high-grade and unaltered concentrate. Subsequent acid bake and water leach yield high lithium recovery. Spodumene in low-grade ores is effectively converted from α- to β-phase but lithium recoveries during leaching are lower than for the high-grade material. Calcines of altered ores contain β-spodumene particles that are partly or fully encapsuled by a glassy K, Mg, Na, and Fe-bearing aluminosilicate phase. The glassy phase remains after leaching, consistent with lower lithium recoveries from altered ores compared to the high-grade material.

High-grade, un-altered spodumene concentrates provide ideal conditions for the conventional lithium extraction process to reach maximum lithium recoveries. However, our work shows that issues, such as clinker formation during calcination, have a significant impact on lithium recoveries from low grade or altered spodumene ores and concentrates. Adaption of the conventional process or the development of a new process that can accept a wider range of source materials is thus required to meet the increasing demand for lithium.


Improving the flotation of pentlandite ultrafines at the Nova Nickel Operation

Nerissa Huett, Graduate Metaluurgist IGO/Murdoch University

Nerissa completed an Engineering degree (Chemical & Metallurgical Engineering Hons. Majoring in Chemistry) at Murdoch University in 2022, and is currently employed with IGO and completing the graduate program at their Nova Nickel Operation.



Improving the recovery of ultrafine particles (-7 m) in froth flotation is a significant challenge in the processing of low-grade disseminated sulfide ores. The depletion of massive nickel sulfides has opened a window for the development of alternative nickel resources, including highly disseminated low-grade nickel sulfide ores to meet the forecasted demand for nickel. Large deficits in nickel supply are expected with the increase in demand for nickel compounds in ‘clean energy’ storage technologies.

The processing of disseminated nickel sulfide ores typically expect high reagent consumption and poor selectivity in froth flotation. Low recoveries are a dominant issue due to poor mineral locking and liberation characteristics. Liberation requirements typically result in high losses of fine particle material to the tailings streams. Froth flotation is a commonly employed technique for the concentration of sulfide minerals, which exploits the relative differences in mineral surface chemistries to effectively select mineral particles and form stable particle attachments to the bubble to produce a high quality, enriched froth concentrate.

Factors influencing the performance and efficiency of froth flotation include particle surface chemistry, pulp chemistry, collision probability, and kinetics. The poor recovery of ultrafine particles during froth flotation is likely attributed to the low probability of bubble-particle attachment of hydrodynamic interactions between the particle and bubble. Low attachment probability arises from the low mass and the low momentum of ultrafine particles, resulting in unstable particle-bubble aggregates.

The impact surface chemistry and pulp chemistry have on froth flotation performance is less understood. Changes in the particle surface chemistry will arise from atmospheric oxidation, grinding media, reagents and/or gangue material in the feed. The pulp chemistry of the system is critical in understanding the reactions occurring within the flotation cell. Determining the optimal pulp chemistry parameters is essential for effective froth flotation for sulfide mineral systems. Additionally, slime coatings (typically MgO-type minerals) will adversely impact froth flotation performance and recovery through alterations in surface chemistry.

This paper therefore investigates the causation of ultrafine nickel losses through understanding the role surface and pulp chemistry has on nickel sulphide systems. Additionally, methods of improving the recovery of ultrafine nickel will be explored.


Extraction of lithium from β-spodumene using potassium chloride and hydroxide

Mahmoud Alhadad, Process Engineer – Projects, Lynas Rare Earths

Mahmoud has extensive international experience with R&D and technology development projects across Australia, Europe, and the Middle East.



The extraction of lithium from spodumene requires decrepitation of α-spodumene at 1100 °C, acid bake of β-spodumene at 250 °C, and several refining steps that make the process equally energy, feedstock, and by-product intensive. The refining of spodumene with sulfuric acid forms sodium sulfate (Na2SO4) as a low-value by-product, and it also generates substantial volumes of hydrogen aluminosilicate (HAlSi2O6) that necessitate disposal.

New technologies need to retrieve lithium from spodumene with less energy and chemical consumption. From this standpoint, we investigated two processes to extract lithium from β-spodumene at moderate and alkaline conditions using potassium chloride with and without potassium hydroxide.

We observed low lithium recovery from leaching β-spodumene with KCl at circumneutral pH and 200 °C, with XRD spectra indicating recrystallisation of β-spodumene into leucite which progresses at slow rates. This is because the ionic radius of K+ is 2.6 times larger than that of Li+, preventing the reaction to advance via the anticipated ion-exchange mechanism to produce K-keatite (K-aluminosilicate). However, as expected, leucite forms more rapidly when β-spodumene is leached with KCl and KOH at pH ∼ 13.

We conclude that the alkaline leach condition with KOH enhances the recrystallisation process of β-spodumene into leucite, but the process temperature needs to be raised to about 250 °C to increase the rate of lithium extraction.


Greenbushes powers ahead

Guy Meade, Manager Production, Talison Lithium

Guy has worked for Talison Lithium in Perth, Australia for over 16 years and has a wealth of industry knowledge in both mineral processing and metallurgy.



A review of what Talison has achieved in the past 12 months and our future plans.

2021 saw Talison complete the construction of a Tailings Retreatment Plant and commence commissioning. Based on size and grade this tails dam ranks as one of the largest lithium deposit in Western Australia.

Tailings were deposited 1980s and 1990s when the site focused on recovering Tantalum and Tin from the LCT pegmatite, the tailings dam remained carefully preserved until an opportunity arose to recover the spodumene. The future is here.

Future growth plans at Greenbushes are already in the construction phase which will see Talison maintain its number one spot in the market providing high quality spodumene concentrates for many years to come.


Battery materials research and quality control solutions

Olga Narygina, Application Specialist, Malvern Panalytical

Dr Olga Narygina is an XRD application and product specialist at Malvern Panalytical. She holds an M.Sc in Condensed Matter Physics and a PhD in Natural Sciences. 



LiFePO4, normally referred to as LFP, is a major cathode material used by lithium-ion battery industry. LFP has its advantage in superior safety and lower material cost compared to other popular chemistries like NMC (LiNixMnyCo1-x-yO2).

Although LFP has lower energy density compared to NMC, this gap is diminishing fast with new battery manufacturing and assembling techniques, like Cell to Pack (CTP) and blade battery designs. The critical parameters, which influence the battery performance, are primary particle size and crystalline phases of the electrode materials. X-ray diffraction (XRD) is a non-destructive technique routinely used for the identification of crystalline phases.

The Rietveld method1 is an established method used for the analysis of powder XRD data, allows to refine the crystallographic structures of the synthesized materials, quantify the amount of each phase in the bulk and characterise the average crystallite size and microstrain. The extracted crystallographic information such as interlayer spacing can be used to calculate the degree of graphitization or the orientation index in graphite battery anode materials. Although average crystallite size can be extracted from powder XRD data, it is not always equal to the primary particle size, crucial for cathode performance.

The combination of X-ray diffraction with laser diffraction and dynamic light scattering techniques comprises a comprehensive approach to the characterisation of size parameters over a large size range.

In this study, we will investigate the Li-ion battery, LMFP (LiMnxFe1-x(PO4)) cathode materials with the Mn content varying from 0 to 0.8, and some synthetic graphite (anode) samples using powder XRD. The correlation of the average crystallite size, determined by XRD, with the particle size measurements by laser diffraction and dynamic light scattering is also discussed.


The “S” in ESG for Lithium and a just transition to NetZero

Carla Martinez, Senior Associate, WSP

Carla is a Senior Associate with WSP’s Social Strategy and Outcomes team with more than 10 years’ experience in SIA and engagement. 



Lithium is crucial for a Net Zero transition. It has largely driven the transition to renewables energy and resulted in better environmental outcomes for people around the world.

Yet, Lithium extraction requires large amounts of water and can have an extensive footprint in the landscape. Local communities who co-exist with Lithium operations are often located in rural and isolated areas, where water scarcity and access to basic services is already constrained.

Lithium is currently mainly sourced from hard rock mines (in Australia) and underground brine reservoirs below the surface of dried lake beds, known as salt flats (in Chile, Argentina and Bolivia). The interaction between Lithium operations and local communities can result in both positive and negative social and environmental change.

This article focuses on the localised social aspects of Lithium, including the outcomes for local communities, the industry and assess the challenges and opportunities to achieve a just transition to NetZero. This article will review the social performance outcomes of two Lithium operations in Chile and Australia.

Preliminary findings demonstrate social performance in the lithium industry is not homogenous and that new operations are leading practice not only for lithium but for the general mining industry. While newer operations have had the ability to rapidly adapt and respond to higher societal expectations and adopt international best practice in human and indigenous rights, lithium operations that have been operating for decades with low regulatory frameworks have failed to raise their standards.

New lithium operations are setting up a benchmark for the industry as well as setting a path for equity and fairness considerations to balance out the costs and benefits to move to Net Zero.

AusIMM’s Lithium, Battery and Energy Metals Conference 2022 is held in Perth and online, Sept 14-15. Don’t miss out on this world class conference, register now!

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