April 29, 2021: Mining giant Rio Tinto has joined the race to produce battery-grade materials with the production of lithium from waste rock in California, the firm said on April 7.
The firm says it was looking for gold in the waste rock at the Boron mine that had piled up over the years, but instead discovered battery-grade lithium.
“We figured out how to chemically process nearly a century’s worth of mining waste to unearth battery-grade lithium,” the firm says. “And we’re looking at the potential to build a full-scale production plant which, once up and running, could produce enough lithium to power 70,000 electric vehicle batteries — without the need to mine anything else.”
If the feasibility assessment is successful, Rio Tinto aims to scale up production to an initial capacity of 5,000 tonnes.
The Boron project “draws on Rio Tinto’s long-standing partnership with the US Department of Energy’s Critical Materials Institute, which is focused on discovering ways to economically recover critical mineral by-products from existing refining and smelting processes,” Rio Tinto says.
“CMI experts have worked alongside Rio Tinto technical leads to help solve a number of key processing challenges to produce battery-grade lithium at Boron.”
Rio Tinto has another feasibility study into a lithium project in the pipeline, in Serbia, which should be completed by the end of this year.