Speaker spotlight with Greg Sheehan
Greg Sheehan, Global Lithium Director at Hatch, generously sat down with us to share his valuable insights on what is transpiring in Australia within the lithium sector, and what the future holds.
What message would you like to highlight to the delegates at this upcoming conference?
We are just commencing a generational change in the metals sector. Demand for the quantity and type of commodities we produce is changing at a rate that is difficult to achieve. Climate change, decarbonization, ESG (environmental, social, and governance) and EV (electric vehicles) have entered our daily lives, with metallurgists and process engineers key to enabling the coming changes. It’s going to be a very busy next 15 years!
What are the biggest trends you are seeing in the sector today, and what innovations do you predict we will be seeing in the future?
There are a few trends I think are worth mentioning:
- Large scale production of some lithium-ion battery input materials, such as lithium and Ni/Co precursor is still embryonic. The first BYD, CATL and Tesla EVs only entered to market in 2002-2008. For hard rock lithium the immediate trend is towards large automated chemical plants, with a strong focus on product quality. Fairly standard unit operations are preferred as time to get to market and demand pull are immediate strong drivers.
- I think energy efficiency and fuel type, driven by fuel cost and ESG demands, is emerging as one development theme, the other being residue and by-product management. The focus on developing long-life sorbents for lithium recovery from brine will continue. In China, there has been a considerable investment in membrane developments for brines with a high Mg/Li ratio – a potential alternative to sorbents.
The supply and demand of commodities globally are growing at an exponential rate. What are the biggest challenges impacting the lithium and energy metals, especially regarding ESG?
The indicated future demand by automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) is much higher than the industry can supply. The biggest challenge is to attempt to narrow this supply gap in a sustainable manner. The lithium industry is secretive and technical interaction between producers is limited, so the emergence of standard unit operations, such as we see in copper, is some time away. The ESG focus on lithium and other battery materials is not unique – CO2 emissions, residue containment, water use and discharge and community impacts all need very active management. As a generalisation, metal projects are all moving towards zero liquid discharge, dry stacking of solid residue and tight control of stormwater quality. The circular economies in China can help in this regard, but plants need to be keenly aware of China’s dual controls on energy use and intensity in particular provinces.
You‘ve had a very impressive career that spans over 40 years. What is your biggest accomplishment or achievement to date?
Thank you. I still enjoy the small accomplishments I made when I was three years out of uni! I’ve been fortunate to have worked in technology focused companies all my career, where I’ve been able to work with smart people, both in my company and in research organisations, on new chemistry, biochemistry and chemical engineering processes or unit operations. Proving up a new chemistry to a demonstration plant scale and subsequent commercialisation is extremely satisfying.
Why do you think it is important for professionals from all levels to continue their professional development and connect on a global scale through conferences like AusIMM’s?
Australia is remote and time zones are against us. While we punch above our weight, our metals process engineering numbers are relatively small. Attending international conferences allows us to physically meet our international peers and to share both problems and ideas for solutions, as well as refreshing our knowledge in areas we may not use frequently. It’s easy enough to read publications and patents, but shared experiences at conferences grows relationships, ideas and collaboration. For our younger colleagues, it’s a chance to learn something new and to start to grow networks.
What are you most looking forward to seeing, or wanting to see at the conference?
Insights and opinions on technologies and markets. With the industry quite young and IP held closely, it’s always interesting to see the direction and adjustments that are being made to position either a company or products.
Our student members and young professionals’ network will be attending #Lithium2022, what advice do you have for students to kick start their career in mining?
Most interesting projects start with chemistry or biology, supported by physics and maths. Grab projects or subjects with these elements in either development or operations roles as they will expose you to all elements of our industry - technical, management and business case development.
Greg will be presenting his highly anticipated keynote presentation ‘Spodumene to Lithium Chemicals- A Work in Progress’ at next month’s Lithium, Battery, and Energy Metals Conference 2022, hosted on 14-15 September in Perth and online.
Find out more and register now to hear the latest from global leading experts.