WA Cashes in on Lithium Boom as Work Begins on World’s Largest Lithium Refinery

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What is expected to be the world’s largest lithium refinery has reached a major milestone, with construction starting on the $1 billion project south of Perth.

The Kemerton-based refinery, led by United States company Albemarle, is expected to produce 100,000 tonnes of lithium hydroxide each year — more than double that of a refinery planned for the southern Perth suburb of Kwinana.

Vice president of Albemarle’s lithium division, David Klanecky, said it would be the biggest of its kind in the world and produce a large amount of what was demanded across the globe for things like batteries, greases and ceramics.

“If you look at the global demand for lithium last year across the globe in every application, [it was] around 270,000 tonnes,” he said.

“That’s a third of the capacity that was last year the global demand for the entire market.”

The refinery is expected to create about 1,000 jobs during construction and operation, and Mr Klanecky said the company is committed to hiring local workers.

Growing lithium in WA

Both the State and Federal governments want to see WA to continue to play a major part in the world’s lithium industry.

Premier Mark McGowan said WA was moving to the forefront of the lithium industry amid a growing global demand.

“Going up the value chain in lithium means that it improves the prospects of us eventually being able to build batteries here in WA,” he said.

“We know that’s a long way off, but we have to start the process towards getting to that point.”

Federal Trade and Investment Minister, Simon Birmingham, said partnerships with the US, including Albemarle, would play a big role in boosting lithium exports from WA.

“This lithium processing plant will ensure that this part of WA is part of the global growth in batteries, renewable technologies, and energy sources into the future,” he said.

A number of other lithium processing plants and mines have been flagged across the state, and WA is already home to the world’s largest lithium mine in Greenbushes.

No word on new research centre

The WA Government has also made a bid to the Federal Government to host a lithium battery research centre, which would look into the sourcing of materials and deployment of batteries in the community.

Senator Birmingham would not be drawn on whether WA had been successful in its attempts for a battery research centre.

“It’s a highly competitive process with a range of competing proposals in different industry sectors right across the country,” he said.

But Senator Birmingham said an announcement would be made on the research centre in coming weeks.

Source: ABC News, 28 March 2019