FBICRC signs contract for $18M flagship Cathode Precursor Production Pilot Plant

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PERTH, AUSTRALIA – 21 October 2021 – The Future Battery Industries Cooperative Research Centre (FBICRC) has today announced it has signed contracts with a consortium of leading local, national, and international companies, the WA Government, contractors and academic institutions to design and commission its flagship Cathode Precursor Production Pilot Plant in Western Australia.

The pilot plant project is an important step in providing technical capability towards the production of advanced battery materials on an industrial scale in WA.

The FBICRC and its partners will make an investment valued at over $18million ($9.2 cash and $9.2 in-kind including the repurposing of BHP’s existing nickel sulphate pilot plant) to produce the present generation of cathode chemistries used in electric vehicles from locally sourced materials.

The pilot plant will extend the work of several Australian research institutions and companies which can currently produce battery minerals in pilot sized batches. The pilot plant will produce precursor suitable for material qualification in EV value chains and build on the downstream opportunities created by the battery grade chemical refineries being commissioned or constructed in WA.

It will have state-of-the-art automation and controls to enable 24/7 remote operation. The modular nature of the pilot plant allows:

  • Simultaneous independent operating conditions for the four reactors
  • Four reactors to operate under identical conditions for increased throughput
  • Continuous and batch reactor conditions to simulate industrial precursor plants in Asia and Europe

The plant will initially be commissioned with smaller reactors to facilitate fast throughput in numerous operating conditions before switching to larger reactors for scaled up throughput at optimal processing conditions.

Australia could harness substantial benefits from expanding its presence in the battery value chain with investment in refining of battery chemicals and the manufacture of active materials, potentially delivering $1.9 billion to the economy and supporting 9,300 jobs in 2030.

Stedman Ellis, CEO of the FBICRC said Australia currently exports the main commodities (lithium, nickel, manganese, and cobalt) in the form of mineral concentrates with little value added from the manufacturing of lithium-ion battery materials retained in Australia.

“The construction and commissioning of refining plants at Kwinana and Kemerton is changing this picture, putting WA on the cusp of being able to meet the supply chain requirements for local manufacture of the nickel-rich NCM (nickel cobalt manganese) used in the booming global electric vehicle market,” Stedman said.

Curtin University is leading the first step to cathode precursor production at CSIRO’s Waterford facilities in Perth with the further step to convert to cathode active materials being led by the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, and the University of Technology Sydney will provide expertise on advanced materials development.

To make battery material companies a reality of the future, they will need high-level technical skills to match the technologies. This project will contribute to the development of the skill sets required to run modern manufacturing industries and invest in research higher degrees to provide this pipeline. Battery chemistry skills need broad and deep capabilities, and the graduates will be key people from which this broader skills base can be grown over time.

The project involves a consortium of 19 participants including international players such as BASF, BHP and IGO as well as a number of SME’s, four research participants and the Minerals Research Institute of Western Australia on behalf of the WA Government.

Curtin University Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research, Chris Moran said:

“This facility is instrumental to the creation of an Australian batter materials industry, with the capability to continuously produce a broad range of battery cathode chemistries utilising Australia’s nickel, lithium, cobalt, manganese and aluminum resources for qualification, and will serve as the design -basis for industrial scale operation.”

Installation and commissioning of the Cathode Precursor Production Pilot Plant is due to take place in Q1, 2022, which will be followed by an 18-month pilot campaign period.

Project participants:

  • Alpha HPA Limited
  • Ardea Resources Limited
  • BASF Australia Ltd
  • BHP Nickel West Pty Ltd
  • Blackstone Minerals Limited
  • Calix Limited
  • ChemX Materials Ltd
  • Cobalt Blue Holdings Limited
  • CSIRO
  • Curtin University
  • EV Metals Group PLC
  • Galaxy Resources Limited
  • HEC Group Pty Ltd
  • IGO Limited
  • JordProxa Pty Ltd
  • Lycopodium Limited
  • Minerals Research Institute of Western Australia
  • Queensland University of Technology
  • University of Technology Sydney

 

To read Minister WA Minister for Mines, Petroleum and Energy Bill Johnston’s statement click here.

 

References:

July 2020 – FBICRC scene setting report delivered by QUT, confirms feasibility for cathode manufacture in WA.

June 2021: Future Charge: Building Australia’s Battery Industries

 

Media contact: Trish Miller 04111 52 373

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