Piedmont Lithium has completed a prefeasibility study for a proposed lithium hydroxide chemical plant in Kings Mountain, North Carolina. The company is now considering whether to operate the plant as a stand-alone merchant plant that would convert spodumene concentrate purchased on the global market to battery-grade lithium hydroxide (LiOH), or, alternatively, to develop an integrated project based on mining nearby, company-controlled deposits to produce spodumene concentrate feed for the plant.

The design basis for the chemical plant is identical in both the merchant and the integrated scenarios. Nameplate production capacity would be 22,720 metric tons per year (mt/y) of LiOH. Process equipment selection is based on conventional, proven technologies. Project life for both options is planned at 25 years.

Quartz, feldspar, and mica byproducts would provide credits to the cost of lithium production.

Both development options confirm that Piedmont would be a strategic and low-cost producer of battery-grade LiOH, with the project benefitting from access to exceptional infrastructure, low operating costs, and low corporate taxes.

Both development options are at the low end of their respective industry cost curves. The average merchant project LiOH cash costs are estimated at $6,689/mt. The average integrated project LiOH cash costs are estimated at $3,716/mt.

Initial capital costs to develop the chemical plant are estimated at $377 million for both project options. Capital costs to develop a mine and concentrator on Piedmont Lithium properties are estimated at $168 million. The mine and concentrator would produce 160,000 mt/y of 6% Li2O spodumene concentrate.

Currently, 80% of the world’s LiOH is produced in China. The Piedmont Lithium announcement makes note of the fact that its merchant project option would compete against the numerous merchant spodumene converters currently operating in China, providing United States and European automotive companies a secure and independent source of the LiOH required for their supply chains.

The merchant project would also provide the growing number of spodumene concentrate producers in Australia, North America, South America, Europe, and Africa with an alternative, non-Chinese processing route for their material for the first time. Piedmont is actively engaged with several such parties, discussing the securing of feed material for the plant.

Meanwhile, Piedmont Lithium is initiating a definitive feasibility study for the proposed integrated project.