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Miner approves project implementation, begins refinery construction

An image of Sibanye-Stillwater CEO Neal Froneman

NEAL FRONEMAN Keliber is expected to have one of the lowest carbon emission footprints in the industry

Photo by Donna Slater

27th January 2023

     

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Diversified miner Sibanye-Stillwater announced in November last year that, subsequent to securing an effective controlling interest of about 85% in Keliber Oy, the Sibanye-Stillwater board had approved capital expenditure of €588-million for the Keliber lithium hydroxide project, beginning with the construction of the Kokkola lithium hydroxide refinery.

The Kokkola refinery will be located at the Kokkola industrial park, in Finland, a “world-class industrial and logistics hub”, which is strategically positioned to supply the growing European battery sector.

The construction of the Kokkola refinery marks the first phase in the development of Keliber’s wholly owned and advanced Keliber project located in the Central Ostrobothnia region of Finland – one of the most significant lithium-bearing areas in Europe.

Four initial opencast and three underground, highly-mechanised mining operations – primarily Syväjärvi and Rapasaari, with Emmes, Outovesi and Länttä towards the end of the project life – are planned to supply ore to the Päiväneva concentrator which will be situated close to the Rapasaari mine.

Concentrate produced at the Päiväneva concentrator is planned to be trucked about 66 km to the Kokkola refinery, which is forecast to produce an average of 15 000 t/y of battery grade lithium hydroxide monohydrate.

A definitive feasibility study (DFS), completed by Keliber in February 2022 and updated in October 2022, confirmed the robust economics of the Keliber project at hydroxide prices significantly lower than the average prevailing spot prices over the last 12 months.

Openpit and underground ore reserves of 12.7-million tons and mineral resources of 17-million tons, support an estimated life-of-mine of 16 years at a forecast average milling rate of about 800 000 t/y.

Construction of the Päiväneva concentrator and the initial two openpit mines, the Syväjärvi mine followed by the flagship Rapasaari mine, will start once all the environmental permits are received. The Syväjärvi mine is fully permitted, while the environmental permits at the Rapasaari mine and the Päiväneva concentrator are currently outstanding.

Should the Kokkola refinery be completed ahead of the permitting of the mines and concentrator, the Kokkola refinery will be able to profitably beneficiate third-party spodumene until such time as it can feed its own mines supply.

Keliber has engaged with third parties to supply spodumene concentrate to the Kokkola refinery should the permitting of the Rapasaari mine and the Päiväneva concentrator be delayed, and extensive work and analysis has been completed to ensure the feasibility of the Kokkola refinery as a standalone operation.

Construction of the Kokkola refinery, which is the longest lead time component of the Keliber project, will ensure optimal scheduling of the other key project components, ensuring the timeous ramp-up of the project to deliver into and capitalise on forecast looming lithium deficits and elevated lithium prices.

The approval of the Kokkola refinery follows Sibanye-Stillwater increasing its shareholding in Keliber to a controlling 84.96% and the consolidation of the Keliber shareholder register from 114 to 10 shareholders (Finnish Minerals Group 14%; minorities 1%), enabling Sibanye-Stillwater to act decisively and fast-track the Keliber project.

The start of construction of the Kokkola refinery will deliver significant benefits for the Finland fiscus and to regional stakeholders, with meaningful local investment and support for regional suppliers. Keliber will employ around 300 people (including contractors) at steady state with around 500 people involved in the construction phase, with roughly half of them working on the Kokkola refinery construction.

The selected technology solution is provided by technology, services and solutions company Metso Outotec and multinational engineering company FLSmidth.

Keliber’s lithium hydroxide production is based on soda leaching technology, which is expected to be more energy efficient with a lower environmental impact than alternative processes. Energy sources will primarily include steam, natural gas and hydropower electricity, which contributes to Keliber’s relatively low carbon dioxide emissions in comparison with current global lithium hydroxide production benchmarks.

Circulated process water will account for about 80% of the plant’s total process water consumption. The side stream created in the process, analcime sand, can potentially be used in construction, primarily in the expansion of the Kokkola harbour.

Keliber is emerging as a scalable district opportunity and Sibanye-Stillwater is committing further exploration capital with the aim of extending the resource potential of the area.

“We are delighted to advance and grow our presence in the European battery metals industry through Keliber, which we expect will be the first fully integrated European lithium hydroxide producer supplying the European market and which is expected to have one of the lowest carbon emission footprints in the industry,” Sibanye-Stillwater CEO Neal Froneman said.

“We look forward to working with all stakeholders to deliver this exceptional project which will contribute to the Finnish battery metals ecosystem as well as to the growth of our unique portfolio of green metals that reverse climate change,” he concluded.

Edited by Nadine James
Features Deputy Editor

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