ANSTO is contributing to a number of critical minerals projects that will be funded under the Cooperative Research Centres Projects (CRC-Ps) Program – Round 8. The grants were announced by the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology the Hon Karen Andrews recently.
“We are excited to be working with a great group of companies and that our extensive experience in critical minerals will be used to help deliver these programs and add value to the Australian mining industry. These are important projects to which ANSTO’s unique technical expertise can be of benefit to Australian companies in the critical minerals sector,” said Dr Robert Gee, General Manager, Minerals.
In one of these programs, Prof Vanessa Peterson, Leader, Energy Materials Research Project said ANSTO will be involved in research to optimise the thermal decomposition stage of the processing of pyrite ore to produce battery-grade cobalt and sulphur by Cobalt Blue Holding Ltd (COB). The program received $2.4 million in research funding with the total value of the grant to $11 million.
The overall program will focus on applied processing and large scale test work to demonstrate and optimise the processing of cobalt pyrite-ore to generate battery ready cobalt and sulphur from previously uneconomic reserves.
“Because of our expertise in battery materials, we are part of a team that is investigating the thermal decomposition of pyrite to produce pyrrhotite and sulphur and working on improvements to the leaching of artificial pyrrhotite to reclaim the cobalt,” said Peterson. Read about ANSTO's expertise in the charcaterisation of materials for lithium ion batteries in news.
The CRC-P scope is to design, construct and operate a demonstration plant, and support these activities with parallel applied research at UNSW, ANSTO and ANSAC to optimise the thermal decomposition stage of the process. COB is also a participant in the Future Battery Industries CRC, which was granted $25 million from the Australian Government in May 2019.
The Minerals group will be contributing key hydrometallurgical process development expertise and piloting facilities to two of the successful grant programs.
One of the programs involves the recovery of lithium from spodumene, the most common hard-rock source of lithium, for the production of critical battery chemicals using the revolutionary LieNa® technology. Lithium Australia NL and ANSTO have been researching and developing the LieNA® technology together since 2016. The technology is capable of recovering lithium from fine and contaminated material, which may account for up to 50% of the lithium losses during currently accepted concentration processes.
The program received $1.3 million in research funding and also involves Murdoch University, Pioneer Resources Limited, VSPC, ALS Metallurgy, Curtin University and Carnac Project Delivery Services. The total value of the proposed program is $3.5 million.
“We have been providing mineral consultancy services to Lithium Australia NL for many years. It is exciting to see the progress that has been made to date and we are extremely happy to continue this relationship on a project which has the potential to transform lithium production in Australia and which increases the sustainability of the lithium industry” said Gee.
The second program involves the development of innovative processing solutions that improve all aspects of vanadium production from Vanadium-Titanium-Magnetite (VTM) deposits. Australian Vanadium Limited is currently developing one of the world’s largest vanadium deposits and is looking to this program for significant improvements to the process to produce ultra-high purity vanadium products for use in Vanadium Redox Flow Batteries (VRFB) and master alloys. These applications are a growing segment of the vanadium market.
The program received $1.2 million in research funding and also involves Amec Foster Wheeler, ALS Metallurgy and Curtin University. The total value of the proposed program is $4.9 million.
ANSTO’s involvement includes a wide range of process development and piloting programs well suited to their extensive experience in critical minerals processing.
“We look forward to being a part of generating innovative solutions as part of this work. This program has great potential to improve the purity of the vanadium extracted in a more economical process and recover by-products, such as titanium and chromium, among others, that are currently considered waste in conventional processing,” said Gee.