Pursuit Minerals Ltd (ASX:PUR) is swiftly progressing with its Lithium Carbonate Pilot Plant at the Rio Grande Sur Lithium Project, with first production on the horizon – an opportune and critical advancement for Argentina as it seeks to reinvigorate business under its new presidential administration.
Pilot Plant Commissioning
The Lithium Carbonate Pilot Plant is in the final stages of commissioning, with equipment currently undergoing refurbishment for testing and the initiation of the first production run.
Pursuit Minerals’ dedicated plant operations and engineering team, led by seasoned professionals Pedro Mauricio Torres and Adrian Arias, brings over 25 years of combined experience in lithium projects, ensuring a robust and efficient commissioning process.
Torres, a Senior Lithium Process Engineer, boasts 15 years of experience in Lithium Projects, with a notable track record at SQM, Galaxy Lithium (now Allkem), and Alpha Lithium Corp. His achievements include successfully commissioning the La Negra Lithium Hydroxide Plant.
Arias, a Senior Lithium Brine Technology Engineer, contributes extensive expertise from his roles in Lithium development companies, including projects like the Sal de Vida Project for Allkem and the establishment of the Pilot Plant at the Tolilar Salar for Alpha Lithium Corp.
Currently leading technology development for Beyond Lithium LLC, Arias excels in laboratories, field testing, and operations development, making him a key figure in advancing Lithium Projects focused on the brines of the Argentine Puna.
In early 2023, Pursuit Minerals engaged Worley for a detailed study on the Rio Grande Brines, aiming for a dynamic mass balance in the production of 100 tonnes per annum of battery-grade lithium carbonate.
Worley’s subsequent dynamic simulation outlined stages such as solar evaporation, impurity removal, boron removal, calcium and magnesium removal, lithium carbonate precipitation, and drying and cooling.
Notable results include a 57,005 m² effective area requirement for solar evaporation ponds, a lithium concentration of 1.67% at the pond outlet, final lithium carbonate production of 100.04 TPA with a purity of 99.99586%, and efficient conceptual lithium recoveries at 70% in ponds and 78% in the lithium carbonate plant.
The simulation projected that processing Rio Grande brine into the plant circuit could commence after 363 days, reaching a lithium concentration of 1.6-1.8% at the final pond (Out Pond S4). Worley determined the need for 57,005m² of evaporation ponds to sustain continuous feed for the lithium carbonate plant.
Figure 2: Block diagram of the main stages of the Evaporation Ponds and Lithium Carbonate Plant
250tpa Plant Capacity Increase
Pursuit Minerals’ engineering team, in collaboration with Worley’s study, has conducted a comprehensive analysis of the pilot plant equipment, identifying necessary additions to boost the plant’s capacity from 100tpa to 250tpa.
Under the guidance of Mr. Torres and Mr. Adrias, the Company’s engineering team has devised an upgraded mass balance and plant design, segmented into the liming plant component and the process circuit.
Figure 3: Pursuit Minerals Lithium Carbonate 250tpa Plant Design Layout
The former is planned for on-site construction upon the plant’s relocation to the Salar, while the latter is undergoing commissioning in Salta.
The anticipated outcome is a 99.5% battery-grade Lithium Carbonate, characterised by a guaranteed 99.5 wt. % purity and a fine particle size, positioning it as a superior precursor for critical battery materials.
Today’s announcement highlights Pursuit Minerals’ continued momentum, following a significant milestone earlier this year at its Rio Grande Sur Lithium Project in Salta, Argentina, where the Company unveiled a Maiden JORC Code 2012-Compliant Inferred Mineral Resource Estimate (MRE) of 251.3kt LCE at an impressive grade of 351mg Li per litre.
This achievement sets the stage for the Company’s continued progress, as it looks ahead to finalising the refurbishment, capacity upgrade, and commissioning of its Pilot Plant by the first quarter of 2024, aiming to achieve an operational capacity of 250tpa.
Simultaneously, the engineering team is actively developing the pond layout and design for the plant, engaging in the process of securing environmental permits for evaporation pond construction, slated for the second half of 2024 and contingent on approvals from relevant authorities.
The identified site for both the ponds and plant is the Sal Rio 02 tenement, with the commencement of initial Lithium Carbonate production anticipated in 2025.
Encouragingly, the Company has garnered expressions of interest for off-take agreements covering the initial 250 tonnes of production and is strategically planning to secure financing for pond construction and site facilities.
Despite short-term fluctuations in lithium carbonate prices, the market remains robust, with long-term forecasts projecting a remarkable 225% increase to 2.6 million tons of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE) globally by 2030.
The sustained preference for the material, especially in Lithium Iron Phosphate Batteries (LFP), is evident, particularly in China, where LFP batteries comprised 65.81% of total battery output in the first half of 2023. Underscoring the material’s importance, Chinese manufacturer CATL’s recent announcement of a fast-charging LFP battery is poised for mass production by the end of 2024.
Regarding the operational advancements and commissioning for production, Pursuit Minerals Managing Director & CEO, Aaron Revelle, stated, “The Rio Grande Sur Project continues to advance toward production at a significant pace. In less than 12 months since the Project’s acquisition by Pursuit, our executive and local team have defined a maiden JORC resource in addition to outlining a commercially viable engineering pathway to the production of battery grade Lithium Carbonate in the near term, significantly de-risking the project since its acquisition in a very short period of time,” he said.
“In conjunction with our proposed drilling program and potential upgrade to our existing resource, which we continue to aggressively progress, the Pilot Plant is expected to be processing lithium in Q1 2024 following the commissioning and circuit adjustments currently being made.”
“The Company is looking forward to completion of these significant milestones in conjunction with the site pond design and lodgement of environmental permits to relocate the plant to site that will accelerate Pursuit’s ambitions to move toward being a Lithium Carbonate producer helping to meet the supply side response to the significant forecast demand for Lithium.”
PUR’s Australian Stock Exchange-listed share price is currently trading at $0.008 (9.30am UTC+ 8 hours).