Lithium Australia NL’s (ASX:LIT) (OTCMKTS:LMMFF) (FRA:3MW) first-generation LieNA® lithium processing technology is set to be granted a patent from the European Patent Office, which will provide legal protection in nominated European countries for 20 years from the date of filing.

Earlier this month, the company received a standard patent ‘Certificate of Grant’ from IP Australia for its SiLeach® extraction technology for low-energy recovery of lithium from micas – potentially a shortcut in the production of lithium-ion batteries.

How LieNA works

The LieNA process is designed to improve the recovery of lithium from spodumene (the most common hard-rock source of lithium) for use in the production of critical battery materials for LIBs.

It consists of a caustic digestion process followed by acid leaching to recover the desired lithium chemical.

Unlike conventional lithium chemical production that relies on roasting and an acid leach, no roasting is involved, making LieNA a more environmentally sound method of processing spodumene.

The company is in discussions with various spodumene concentrate producers and lithium chemical manufacturers who understand the gap LieNA could fill, as well as its potential if commercialised.

Commercialisation of LieNA process

Managing director Adrian Griffin said: “Lithium Australia continues to focus on developing novel solutions to lithium processing problems.

“Commercialisation of the LieNA process will be an opportunity to improve the sustainability of the LIB industry, which drastically needs to reduce its environmental footprint.

“The improved recoveries LieNA affords could permit the production of more lithium chemical units from the same size of mining excavation – and at a lower unit cost.

“We see an immediate application for LieNA in Australia, given that this country produces well over half the world’s lithium and nearly all of its spodumene requirements, despite significant quantities of the latter never making it into the processing supply chain.

“The problem starts with the very nature of spodumene and the technology currently used to recover lithium from it – that problem could be solved by more efficient processing, and that is our aim.”

Co-funding for research

LIT’s drive for battery-material sustainability, secure supply chains and processing options that accord with high environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards has earned it government recognition.

This is evidenced by federal co-funding – through a Co-operative Research Centres Projects (CRC-P) grant – for the construction and operation of a LieNA pilot plant, a project valued at $3.6 million.

Construction of an autoclave, the principal component of the pilot plant, has commenced in Mumbai, India, and so far COVID has had no impact on the build schedule.

Lithium Australia anticipates delivery to Australia in October 2021, with plant construction at ANSTO to be completed by year’s end to enable the first pilot run.

VSPC Ltd, a wholly-owned company subsidiary, will use the lithium phosphate generated by the pilot plant to create LFP cathode powder at its Brisbane facility.

The LFP powder will then be used to produce commercial-format LIB cells for testing.