Orocobre plans to more than double lithium production in Argentina

By William Clarke
Published: Thursday, 20 December 2018

Orocobre and Toyota's joint venture (JV) has plans to expand, with 25,000 tonnes per year of lithium carbonate expected and 9,500 tpy of technical-grade Li2CO3 to be used by Toyota.

Australian lithium producer Orocobre and Japanese carmaker Toyota have agreed to invest in a major expansion of Orocobre’s lithium production facilities, which will more than double its capacity and provide feedstock for a planned hydroxide plant in Japan.

Orocobre announced on Wednesday November 28 that its board as well as Toyota’s had approved the final investment decision for the stage 2 JV expansion of the Olaroz Lithium Facility in Argentina, at a cost of $295 million.

Funding is expected to be achieved in 2019, but no schedule for first production has been revealed.

The expansion will bring 25,000 tpy of additional technical-grade lithium carbonate capacity online. This will bring the company’s total capacity to 42,500 tpy of lithium carbonate.

This process will also increase the quality of Orocobre's stage-1 lithium carbonate production, which is currently mostly technical grade, making it entirely battery grade. This will give the company 17,500 tpy of battery-grade lithium carbonate, in addition to its new capacity for 25,000 tpy of technical grade.

Technical-grade lithium carbonate can either be used in ceramics, lubricants or for other industrial purposes, or it can be used as a feedstock for lithium hydroxide production.

On November 29, Fastmarkets assessed the spot price of lithium carbonate, min 99% Li2CO3, technical and industrial grades, cif China, Japan & South Korea, at $11-13 per kg, down from $12-14 per kg a week earlier.

Technical lithium carbonate prices have come down over the past year due to increased supply, although prices were still higher than they were three years ago due to spill-over support from the battery-grade lithium sector.

Out of Orocobre’s technical-grade carbonate production, 9,500 tpy will be processed into battery-grade lithium hydroxide at the proposed Naraha plant in Japan, which will be operated by Toyota.