Lithium News in Brief 22 – 29 September

By Myles McCormick
Published: Tuesday, 29 September 2015

CORFO inspects SQM operations at the Salar de Atacama; Western Lithium timeline update; Tesla launches its first European EV factory.

Officials from Chilean state agency Corporacion de Fomento de la Produccion (CORFO) carried out a site inspection of the Salar de Atacama lithium brine site on Wednesday 23 September, local news agency La Tercera reported.

CORFO holds land at the salar upon which Chile’s Sociedad de Quimica y Minera SA (SQM) runs lithium brine extraction operations under a long-standing lease agreement. A prolonged dispute over contractual terms and payments has led to efforts on the part of the state body to terminate the agreement.

The purpose of the inspection was to "safeguard the contractual limits of production" among other reasons, "with a view to the future sustainability of the Salar’s exploitation", CORFO said.

TSX-V-listed Western Lithium USA Corp. has begun a testing campaign at its lithium and potassium demonstration facilities in Weimar and Sondershausen, Germany. The results are expected in 2016 and will be used to support design criteria and equipment selection for a definitive feasibility study for its Kings Valley lithium brine project, located 100 km northwest of Winnemucca, Nevada, US.

The junior explorer also said that is considering options to connect the Kings Valley project to the Ruby interstate natural gas pipeline as well as looking into possibilities to develop the project's water resources.

The company is targeting early 2019 to commence construction at King’s Valley, while production at its Cauchari-Olaroz brine project – acquired via its recent merger with Lithium Americas Corp. – is expected to begin at a level of 2,500 tpa by year-end 2016, ramping up to 20,000 tpa by the end of 2017.

In downstream news, Tesla Motors Inc., the posterchild of the lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery powered electric vehicles (EV) industry, has opened its first European manufacturing plant in Tilburg in the Netherlands. It formerly used the Tilburg for the reassembly of vehicles made made in California, US.

The new facility will produce about 450 cars a week, with capacity for about 1,000 a week.

Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, said that the company will likely look for further European production sites from early next year. 

The company recently secured sources of lithium hydroxide for its Reno, Nevada-based Li-ion battery Gigafactory from AIM-listed explorers Bacanora Minerals Ltd and Rare Earth Minerals Plc in Sonora, Mexico and TSX-V-listed Pure Energy Minerals Ltd in Nevada, US.

The University of Texas, Austen said it had have identified "a new safe and sustainable cathode material for low-cost sodium-ion batteries" following studies by a team of researchers under John Goodenough – whose research played a key role in the development of the Li-ion battery – at its Cockrell School of Engineering,.

Sodium-ion batteries could provide a cheaper alternative to their Li-ion counterparts, but are currently a long way from commercialisation.

But the university said that the identification of the cathode material, made from eldfellite, a "non-toxic and inexpensive mineral", presented a significant advancement towards this end.