RIO TINTO is building a battery manufacturing laboratory at its research facility in Bundoora, Melbourne, the latest move in the company’s efforts to make headway in the global battery metals sector.
Speaking at the World Mining Congress (WMC) in Brisbane, Rio’s minerals boss Sinead Kaufman said the firm was constructing the end-to-end battery laboratory in order to improve its understanding of battery production, manufacturing, and chemistry. WMC is an international forum for the global mining and resources sectors.
Kaufman said: "At this lab we will build our own batteries, allowing us to test how our minerals and other products will perform in real-world applications, such as in electric-vehicle batteries.”
The laboratory, which is expected to be operational by November, is the latest development in Rio’s expansion of its battery materials business.
In 2019, Rio started pilot production of lithium from waste rock at its Boron mine site in California, and two years later, it announced that it would support the development of a “battery ecosystem” in Europe with an investment in electric vehicle battery producer Inobat.
Last year Rio bought the Rincon lithium project in Argentina for AU$825m (US$568m).
Rincon is a large, undeveloped lithium-brine project located in the heart of the “lithium triangle” in the Salta Province of Argentina – an area Rio sees as “an emerging hub for greenfield projects”.
The project includes a small, starter battery-grade lithium carbonate plant with a capacity of 3,000 t/y which could be extended to support a full-scale operation, including power line and associated substations, construction camp and airstrip, Rio said.
The firm also planned to establish lithium extraction in Jadar, Serbia after discovering lithium in a new mineral now known as jadarite. Rio invested AU$2.4bn in what it called “Europe’s biggest lithium mine”, in Jadar Valley, however the Serbian government cancelled Rio’s spatial plan for the Jadar lithium-borates project and revoked its licences. The company says it is consulting with stakeholders to “explore all options related to the project’s future”.
The global demand for lithium batteries is expected to surge more than five-fold by 2030, while the IEA says the world could face lithium shortages as early as 2025. Rio said it is aiming to meet this growing demand for lithium over the next decade with its growing portfolio of lithium projects. “Rincon strengthens our battery materials business and positions Rio Tinto to meet the double-digit growth in demand for lithium over the next decade, at a time when supply is constrained,” said Rio Tinto chief executive, Jakob Stausholm.
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