Two trail-blazing lithium players — Lithium Australia and Lepidico — are advancing technologies to produce battery-grade lithium from lower grade, higher impurity ore sources. 

Lithium Australia plans to be the first Australian company to do everything from mining lithium to making batteries. 

Stage 1 of Lithium Australia’s (ASX:LIT) Sileach pilot plant trial produced “outstanding results” as the company aims to convert mine waste into lithium-ion batteries – a world first. 

The lithium-rich liquor produced during an initial stage of the trial will be processed into lithium chemicals in the next stage — due to start 10 September.  

“We anticipate that stage 2 will result in the production of a lithium chemical from waste material sourced near Kalgoorlie,” Lithium Australia managing director Adrian Griffin said.  

“We will then apply [Lithium Australia subsidiary] VSPC’s proprietary process to that lithium chemical and, ultimately, produce a lithium-ion battery: a world first.” 

Lithium Australia shares were up 3 per cent to 10c in early Frdiay trade. They have traded between 9c and 26.5c over the past year. 

The Lithium Australia (ASX:LIT) share price over the past year.
The Lithium Australia (ASX:LIT) share price over the past year.

Lepidico’s battery plans

Lepidico (ASX:LPD) isn’t far behind, using its own technology to successfully produce lithium carbonate from non-conventional sources, including tailings — the materials left over after processing ore to separate valuable material from uneconomic material. 

Battery-grade lithium carbonate is used to make lithium-ion batteries. 

Now, Lepidico will build a $3 million Perth-based pilot plant — or demonstration facility – to show off its technology to potential sales and finance partners ahead of development of its larger Phase 1 processing plant. 

Lepidico stock was up 5.5 per cent intra-day to 2c on the news. It has traded between 1.1c and 8.4c over the past year. 

The company is conducting a feasibility study for a Phase 1 L-Max® plant and is targeting commercial production for 2020. 

The Lepidico (ASX:LPD) share price over the past year.
The Lepidico (ASX:LPD) share price over the past year.

Research and development standoff 

Lithium Australia has blasted the Federal government’s capping of its Research and Development rebate scheme – a move with the potential to negatively affect the new “Lithium Valley” energy metals processing industry proposed for WA.  

The company threatened to relocate “its successful R&D activities elsewhere – perhaps Germany, which has a target date for the demise of internal combustion engines and is facilitating that by way of attractive R&D financial support”. 

“The federal government needs to review its R&D tax incentives as they relate to energy metals, to allow the required technologies to be developed rapidly,” Mr Griffin told Stockhead recently. 

“Without these technologies being commercialised in Australia, we can be assured that most of the value will continue to flow to other countries.