Unlikely heroes: how lithium mining could change the Pilbara for the better – by Max Opray (The Guardian – May 10, 2016)


Currently the world’s biggest producer of lithium, Australia is well-placed to take advantage of the lithium-ion battery solar storage boom

Out Western Australia way unlikely new environmental heroes can be found toiling in the red ochre dust of the Pilbara. Until recently companies such as Altura Mining, which has a long rap sheet of coal projects to its name, weren’t exactly contributing to the effort to curb global carbon emissions, but that is about to change.

The coal price has slumped, so too that of iron ore – the Pilbara’s primary source of income – and mining companies are eyeing off the building blocks of green economies of the future, such as neodymium and yttrium rare earths for the magnets used in wind turbines, and gallium and indium for solar panels and energy-efficient lighting.

While these all have varying levels of supply capacity relative to demand, where the supply chain falls seriously short in comparison to the projected need is the materials needed for battery systems crucial for storing the intermittent energy output of solar and wind as well as powering the fleets of electric cars that companies such as Tesla are planning to roll out in huge numbers over the coming decade.

That’s where Altura Mining comes in, timing plans to develop the Pilgangoora Lithium project to coincide with the battery boom. Altura Mining has secured an offtake agreement with Chinese batteries material producer Lionergy, and recently completed a feasibility study mapping out the mining, processing, logistics and support infrastructure required to commence mining and processing of spodumene, a hard rock source of lithium, at Pilgangoora.

The company is just one example of 40 Australian firms working in the lithium sector. According to the US Geological Survey Australia produced more lithium than anywhere else in the world in 2015, harvesting 13,400 metric tonnes, ahead of Chile in second place at 11,700 metric tonnes.

For the rest of this article, click here: http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/may/10/unlikely-heroes-how-lithium-mining-could-change-the-pilbara-for-the-better