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Rio Tinto launches $10 million lithium mining pilot in California

22/10/2019
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Rio Tinto are launching a pilot project to produce lithium from its Boron mine in the Californian desert.

Rio Tinto's Boron Mine is already the largest borax mine in the world and the largest open-pit mine in California. It could soon be one of the world's largest lithium mines.
(Image via Rio Tinto)

The idea for the project came about after the company discovered lithium while testing tailings from 90-year-old pit mine to search for a significant presence of gold. The mine currently produces borates, which are used to make insulation, fibreglass, soaps and cosmetics. 

They were surprised to discover traces of lithium at a higher concentration than domestic projects under development.

“If trials continue to prove successful, this has the potential to become America’s largest domestic producer of battery-grade lithium — all without the need for further mining,” said Bold Baatar, Rio Tinto’s energy and minerals chief executive.

Lithium is a vital mineral used in rechargeable batteries, making it extremely valuable to the automotive market with the rise of electric vehicles. If speculations about the Boron mine are correct then Rio Tinto will be able to hold a significant percentage of that market.

The $10 million pilot plant will be able to produce 10 tonnes a year of lithium carbonate. If successful, Rio Tinto will consider investing in a $50 million industrial-scale plant capable of generating up to 5,000 tonnes a year - matching the size of the only other lithium-carbonate producing facility in the US, Albemarle’s Silver Peak Mine in Nevada.

Lithium is a vital mineral used in rechargeable batteries, making it extremely valuable to the automotive market with the rise of electric vehicles. If speculations about the Boron mine are correct then Rio Tinto will be able to hold a significant percentage of that market - the 5,000 tonnes per year potential capacity would be enough to make 15,000 Tesla Model S batteries.

Rio Tinto are already involved in lithium production from their lithium and borates mineral mine in Jadar, Serbia. They also allegedly last year attempted to buy a $5 billion stake in the world’s second largest lithium producer: Chile’s Chemical and Mining Society.

It makes the accidental discovery in an older mine particularly fortuitous and the company are not expected to waste any time on taking advantage. They plan to seek board approval next year, with first production expected in 2024.

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Recent Comments
Would anyone know what process they are using to extract the lithium?
Mark Laing, 23 October 2019
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Rio Tinto launches $10 million lithium mining pilot in California - Time to read 3 min
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