Lithium value share by country 2017. Image: AMEC.
BY CAMERON DRUMMOND
TIME is running out for Australia to take advantage of an estimated $2 trillion lithium value chain, according to the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies (AMEC).
AMEC is calling for collaboration between industry and Government to pounce on developing domestic downstream lithium processing, in its report A lithium industry in Australia: A value chain analysis for downstreaming Australia’s lithium resources, by business-to-business advisory service Future Smart Strategies.
While Australia is the dominant global producer of mine concentrate, it is yet to implement further downstream processes such as refinement, the production of battery cells, and the assembly of systems.
Each stage further down the chain adds value to the product.
“Australia is in the enviable position of having large reserves of lithium in the form of hard rock,” the report stated.
“This resource is very accessible by established mining technology and already deployed in other mining applications by a substantive, skilled, and efficient mining industry in Australia.
“By comparison, most other major global reserves are held in salt lakes and are extracted by natural evaporation.
“Whilst this allows producers in, for example, South America to enjoy low operational costs, their pathway to expand production is both environmentally and technically challenging, more costly, time-consuming and to a large extent, weather dependant.
“In comparison, the advantage for Australia’s producers is that they can rapidly, cost-effectively and predictably expand production to meet demand using established technology.”
At the moment, it would be at least until 2020 – when Tianqi Lithium’s Kwinana processing hub comes online – before Australia has Stage 2 processing abilities.
“This report is a call to action; there is a unique opportunity for Australia to undertake greater lithium downstream processing,” AMEC chief executive officer Warren Pearce said.
“Australia produces over 60 per cent of the world’s lithium, dominating one end of the value chain [and] also produces all of the minerals (other than soda ash) that are needed to manufacture lithium rechargeable batteries.
“Australia has a series of comparative advantages that we can capitalise on, if Government and industry collaborate to achieve greater downstream processing.
“It is important that all levels of Government engage with industry to grasp this opportunity.
“We have a window of roughly two years before it is set where battery components and batteries will be manufactured and by whom.”