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Li-Metal reveals plans for world's first carbonate-to-lithium plant

Company says Quebec a possible location for facility, due to low energy costs

Li-Metal's plan for a commercial lithium facility would produce metal like this that could be used in batteries. (Courtesy Li-Metal Corp.)

Li-Metal Corp. (LIM-CN) unveiled its concept study for a North American lithium metal facility it claims will be the first commercial carbonate-to-metal production site in the world.

The Toronto-based lithium metal technology developer said in a release the facility would have an average production of 1,000 tonnes of lithium metal per year at full capacity. The cost is estimated at $109 million (all figures U.S. unless otherwise noted).

It would apply the company’s carbonate-to-lithium process, which Li-Metal says is a safer, more sustainable method to produce lithium metal compared to the more conventional means utilizing lithium chloride.

"Li-Metal continues to position ourselves as one of the leading players in sustainable lithium metal production in the western world, which is key for our ultra-thin lithium metal anodes business, and we look forward to incorporate the key learnings from the study as we continue to progress our lithium metal business," Li-Metal CEO Srini Godavarthy said in a release.

Exploring plans for the facility

In September 2022, Li-Metal announced it engaged engineering firm Hatch Ltd. to conduct a study for a commercial-scale lithium metal production facility.

Such a facility would help head off a forecasted 2030 bottleneck for battery-grade lithium metal due to rising demand, Li-Metal said. Also, 95 per cent of the production is concentrated in China, where lithium metal production typically employs a process using lithium chloride that produces chlorine gas emissions, the company said in a previous announcement.

In an email exchange, Godavarthy told Sustainable Biz Canada the facility is expected to support 40 to 50 gigawatt hours of lithium metal batteries per year.

Li-Metal said the facility would require 5,600 tonnes of lithium carbonate per year for its activities, and produce “minimal GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions.”

Godavarthy expects to open the proposed commercial plant in the next three to five years, or by 2027 at the earliest.

The piloting, scale-up, study, engineering and construction of the commercial-scale plant would be complete in 48 months, the study estimates.

According to the study, the conceptual facility would have “favourable operating costs” for converting carbonate to lithium metal. Excluding the cost of raw materials and including leasing costs for a brownfield facility, the price for converting carbonate to lithium metal would be up to $31 per kilogram, compared to $45 to $52 per kilogram of lithium metal made from lithium chloride, excluding the operating expenses to convert carbonate to chloride.

Godavarthy said Li-Metal is in discussions with state and provincial officials to evaluate the feasibility of the facility in a North American brownfield site. Quebec is the current front-runner, he said, because of its low energy costs. Another possible location is upstate New York, Godavarthy told Sustainable Biz Canada.

Producing sustainable lithium metal

Li-Metal’s carbonate-to-metal technology is touted as a more sustainable choice than the lithium chloride process. The lithium chloride method generates chlorine gas as a by-product, which is a hazardous substance. Instead, Li-Metal uses a molten salt bath to convert lithium carbonate into lithium metal, which produces no chlorine gas.

"The results of the study corroborated the viability of our vision and, importantly, further demonstrated that, in addition to reducing harmful chlorine gas by-product, a commercial-scale plant is expected to produce minimal GHG emissions,” Godavarthy said.

The greenhouse gas emissions footprint of the conceptual commercial facility is also said to be “well below the required reporting levels under the relevant regulatory framework in Canada and U.S.A.”

Godavarthy said Li-Metal is discussing supply, investment and partnership opportunities with lithium carbonate producers and next-generation battery original equipment manufacturers that are compliant with the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act.

Li-Metal has a lithium metal pilot facility that produces 2.5 tonnes per year in Markham, just outside Toronto, and a lithium anode plant in Rochester, N.Y.

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