Kwinana industrial strip set to become epicentre of booming lithium supply market
By the end of the year it's predicted WA will produce half the world's supply of lithium.
Rocks that will power the next generation of smartphones, tablets and electric cars are being dug up right here in WA.
And Kwinana is at the epicentre as a booming global lithium market opens up new economic opportunities for the State.
Tianqi Lithium Australia general manager Phil Thick said there was more lithium in WA than anywhere else in the world.
“Just about every manufacturer in the world has come out with pretty strong and aggressive targets for production of electric vehicles over the next five or 10 years and that’s what’s driving the demand for lithium,” he said.
Demand for the mineral is tipped to grow by 18 per cent a year until 2026, and WA is in the box seat as the largest producer in the world.
The State already has four mines in production, with another three set to come online in the future to deliver thousands of new jobs.
Tianqi owns the controlling stake in the Greenbushes operation.Picture: Ian Munro
“It’s one of the best industrial strips anywhere in the world because of the inter-relationship of all the businesses,” Mr Thick said.
“We use caustic, we use sulphuric acid so we’ll get those from other businesses along the Kwinana strip.”
But unlike iron ore, WA is moving along the supply chain to squeeze extra value out of the operations, with Tianqi’s $700 million Kwinana refinery set to open early next year and turn spodumene rock into lithium hydroxide.
Tianqi already owes a controlling share in the world’s biggest lithium mine in Greenbushes, just north of Bridgetown in WA’s South West.
Downstream processing will turn spodumene concentrate, which ships overseas for up to $US800 a tonne ($1125/t) into a product that can fetch more than $US10,000/t on the global market.
With up to 500 construction workers on site, stage one of Tianqi’s Kwinana refinery is about 75 per cent complete, with stage two under way. Once finished, it will be the biggest lithium hydroxide plant in the world
Global consumption of lithium hydroxide last year was about 40,000t but Tianqi says it aims to produce about 48,000t a year at Kwinana.
Mr Thick shrugged off fears of an oversupply in the market, saying demand is growing rapidly.
Mining experts say the value of lithium exports will not surpass those of WA’s mighty iron ore sector but suggest it could be a more sustainable industry.
The West Australian
Tuesday, 11 September 2018 3:23PM