Green­bushes Mine

The Australian Mining Review - - CONTENTS - EL­IZ­A­BETH FABRI

TAL­I­SON Lithium’s own­ers Tianqi Lithium and US group Albe­marle are pour­ing some se­ri­ous cap­i­tal into their long-run­ning Green­bushes mine in WA’s south-west as the State be­gins its tran­si­tion into a global hub for bat­tery met­als and value-added pro­cess­ing.

In early 2018 the State Govern­ment es­tab­lished a Lithium and En­ergy Ma­te­ri­als Task­force aimed at un­der­stand­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties from the emerg­ing in­dus­try and cre­at­ing a strat­egy go­ing for­ward.

The Green­bushes mine – 250km south of Perth and about 90km south east of the Port of Bun­bury – was at the cen­tre of the dis­cus­sions as a sup­plier of a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of the world’s lithium.

“The Green­bushes mine is the largest lithium mine in the world and is an im­por­tant com­po­nent for Western Aus­tralia to ad­vance fur­ther into the lithium-ion bat­tery value-chain,” WA Mines min­is­ter Bill John­ston told The Aus­tralian Min­ing Re­view.

Over the course of the year, the State Govern­ment en­gaged with key stake­hold­ers from in­dus­try, re­search or­gan­i­sa­tions and the com­mu­nity to en­sure they were given the op­por­tu­nity to play an ac­tive role.

In July it held an In­dus­try Con­sor­tium for stake­hold­ers from lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional com­pa­nies to dis­cuss ideas, with re­sults due to be re­leased early 2019.

Mr John­ston said it was “very im­por­tant” that WA reaps the full po­ten­tial of the bat­tery min­er­als value chain from pro­cess­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing ca­pac­ity, tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise and re­search ca­pa­bil­ity.

He said the State cur­rently had seven op­er­at­ing lithium mines in its ranks, and the Govern­ment had com­mit­ted $6 mil­lion to the es­tab­lish­ment of a Fu­ture Bat­tery In­dus­tries Co-op­er­a­tive Re­search Cen­tre bid, which would en­hance Aus­tralia’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties in the in­creas­ingly im­por­tant bat­tery and en­ergy stor­age in­dus­try.

“By expanding fur­ther into the bat­tery min­er­als value chain the State will fur­ther di­ver­sify the Western Aus­tralian econ­omy and max­imise ben­e­fits to the lo­cal com­mu­nity,” Mr John­ston said.

Ex­pan­sions

The Green­bushes mine was al­ready on a growth path of its own, with a $320 mil­lion ex­pan­sion to dou­ble pro­duc­tion from 80,000tpa to more than 160,000tpa in its fi­nal stages, with com­mis­sion­ing ex­pected to be­gin in the sec­ond quar­ter of 2019.

An­other $516 mil­lion sec­ond stage ex­pan­sion was ap­proved in July, and ear­marked to be­gin con­struc­tion in the first quar­ter of 2019, which would in­crease the pro­cess­ing rate to between 2.3 and 2.7 mil­lion tonnes per an­num of lithium bear­ing min­eral con­cen­trate from late 2020/early 2021.

The sec­ond ex­pan­sion in­cluded the con­struc­tion of a new 520,000tpa con­cen­tra­tor plant, a new crush­ing plant and as­so­ci­ated in­fra­struc­ture.

How­ever, it hasn’t been smooth sail­ing for Tal­i­son, with ex­pan­sion plans mud­dled by a le­gal dis­pute between Tal­i­son and Global Ad­vanced Met­als, which claimed the up­grade would waste the mine’s tan­ta­lum re­source, over which it has rights.

Green­bushes Shire pres­i­dent Tony Pratico said the dis­pute between both par­ties had since been re­solved.

“I’m not aware of any de­tails,” Mr Pratico said.

“But I think the good part about that is they dealt with it around the ta­ble and it was good news when we heard it was re­solved.

“I think mov­ing for­ward for all those in­volved, they didn’t need some­thing like this hang­ing over their head at a time when their re­sources and ex­per­tise were in high de­mand dur­ing these ex­pan­sions.”

Mr Pratico said the whole com­mu­nity was get­ting be­hind the Green­bushes ex­pan­sion projects and the in­vest­ments made by the com­pany were “enor­mous”.

“Tal­i­son’s Green­bushes mine has been the largest em­ployer for many years here in Green­bushes and it’s been im­por­tant to the Shire be­cause the best thing is to have lo­cal em­ploy­ment for res­i­dents rather than fly-in, fly-out, which leaves not only fam­i­lies di­vided but also com­mu­ni­ties di­vided,” Mr Pratico said.

Down­stream Pro­cess­ing

But it wasn’t just min­ing up­grades that had sparked na­tional (and global) in­ter­est.

In­vest­ments in high-qual­ity value-adding plants linked to the mine were also build­ing mo­men­tum, and shap­ing WA’s pro­file as a hub for down­stream pro­cess­ing.

Tianqi Lithium was one of the first to jump on the down­stream pro­cess­ing wagon.

In 2016, the com­pany an­nounced it would in­vest $400 mil­lion into a largescale Kwinana Lithium Plant that would be­come Aus­tralia’s first lithium hy­drox­ide pro­cess­ing fa­cil­ity.

The Kwinana Lithium Plant’s first stage would pro­duce lithium hy­drox­ide from spo­dumene mined at the Green­bushes op­er­a­tion, with com­mis­sion­ing set for late 2018.

In Oc­to­ber 2017, a $300 mil­lion sec­ond stage also re­ceived board ap­proval and would dou­ble plant ca­pac­ity to 48,000 tonnes of lithium hy­drox­ide per an­num.

Then, on 9 Novem­ber 2018, Tal­i­son’s other owner Albe­marle ob­tained en­vi­ron­men­tal ap­proval from the WA Govern­ment to de­velop a $1 bil­lion lithium man­u­fac­tur­ing plant in the Ke­mer­ton Strate­gic In­dus­trial Area near Bun­bury.

The plant it­self would process spo­dumene ore con­cen­trate from Green­bushes through five trains to pro­duce 100,000 tonnes of lithium hy­drox­ide, and up to 1.1 mil­lion tonnes of tail­ings.

The Albe­marle news caused a wave of ex­cite­ment in the re­gion with the prom­ise of more than 500 jobs dur­ing con­struc­tion, and 500 op­er­a­tional po­si­tions.

WA Premier Mark McGowan said the State Govern­ment’s num­ber one pri­or­ity was “di­ver­si­fy­ing the econ­omy” and cre­at­ing jobs.

“The Albe­marle lithium plant is an­other step closer to set­ting up its op­er­a­tions which will gen­er­ate hun­dreds of lo­cal jobs,” Mr McGowan said.

“I’m pleased to see this pro­ject pro­gress­ing, fol­low­ing my pos­i­tive dis­cus­sions with Albe­marle’s direc­tors dur­ing my visit to Washington ear­lier this year.”

Mr Pratico said some mem­bers of the com­mu­nity raised con­cerns why the plants were not built in and around the Green­bushes re­gion, how­ever this op­tion would not have been as prac­ti­cal.

“Num­ber one – there was not enough power, and num­ber two- [there was not] a [large enough] work­force to draw from,” Mr Pratico said.

“The build­ings that are go­ing to be in Ke­mer­ton and Kwinana will be where they have a big­ger em­ploy­ment base to draw on.

“At Green­bushes we also don’t have gas, which is an­other hand­i­cap, so I think that was the rea­son Kwinana and Ke­mer­ton were se­lected for those value-adding plants to be able to draw on the in­fra­struc­ture that is al­ready there on those in­dus­trial sites.”

Tal­i­son Lithium also re­cently be­gan con­struc­tion on a new bulk stor­age fa­cil­ity at the Port of Bun­bury to store lithium con­cen­trate prior to ex­port by Oc­to­ber 2019.

Com­mu­nity En­gage­ment

Mr Pratico said the Shire was for­tu­nate to have reg­u­lar brief­ings from the mine at coun­cil, and Tal­i­son reg­u­larly held pub­lic meet­ings in the sur­round­ing towns to in­form res­i­dents of pro­ject time­lines and com­mu­nity is­sues.

One of the is­sues up for pub­lic dis­cus­sion cur­rently was the es­tab­lish­ment of a mine ac­cess road to “de­fine the best op­tion to deal with in­creased truck move­ments” re­sult­ing from the ex­pan­sion.

On 29 Novem­ber, Tal­i­son an­nounced the Shire of Bridgetown-Green­bushes was seek­ing pub­lic com­ment on Tal­i­son’s Mine Ac­cess Road pro­posal.

“Tal­i­son Lithium takes very se­ri­ously its role as a re­spon­si­ble and re­spon­sive mem­ber of the com­mu­ni­ties in which we op­er­ate, which is why we are be­ing fully trans­par­ent with our Mine Ac­cess Road pro­posal and wel­come pub­lic com­ments,” Tal­i­son gen­eral man­ager op­er­a­tions Craig Daw­son said at the time.

“We are com­mit­ted to de­liv­er­ing a win-win for all by re­mov­ing traf­fic from residential ar­eas and roads fre­quented by the pub­lic, at the same time as up­grad­ing an ex­ist­ing gravel road with min­i­mum im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment.

“From the out­set we have ac­knowl­edged that the mine’s ex­pan­sion, while de­liv­er­ing hun­dreds of new jobs into the lo­cal area and in­ject­ing mil­lions of dol­lars into lo­cal busi­nesses, will in­volve an in­crease in min­ing ac­tiv­ity and truck move­ments.”

The miner was also as­sess­ing the fea­si­bil­ity of re­open­ing the Green­bushes rail­way line, which was await­ing ap­proval by the State Govern­ment.

Mr Pratico said Tal­i­son had been con­sis­tent “all the way through” with its co­op­er­a­tion with the com­mu­nity.

He said the com­pany, to­gether with the Shire, were cur­rently as­sess­ing op­tions on how they can open up more un­de­vel­oped crown land for residential prop­er­ties so that it’s avail­able when the need arises.

Mr Pratico said the miner also en­riched events within the lo­cal com­mu­nity.

“Only re­cently they spon­sored Un­der 12 year old kids to our lo­cal show for them to at­tend for free, and in Green­bushes we have a pink fun run in May of ev­ery year and the com­pany is a ma­jor spon­sor and it’s ap­pre­ci­ated by every­body,” he said.

“The Albe­marle lithium plant is an­other step closer to set­ting up its op­er­a­tions which will gen­er­ate hun­dreds of lo­cal jobs.” “The Green­bushes mine is the largest lithium mine in the world and is an im­por­tant com­po­nent for Western Aus­tralia to ad­vance fur­ther into the lithium-ion bat­tery value-chain.”

Im­age:Tal­isonLithium.

Im­age:Tal­isonLithium.

The Green­bushes mine was 250km south of Perth.

Im­age:Tian­qiLithium.

The Green­bushes mine plant at night.

Im­age:Tal­isonLithium.

The pro­posed route of the new Green­bushes mine ac­cess road.

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