Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

A new lithium mine is on the cusp of supplying the battery minerals market as Tawana Resources and its joint venture partner, Alliance Mineral Assets, bring the fully funded A$42m Bald Hill into production in the coming months.

Tawana, which is listed in Johannesburg and Sydney, said in an update to investors the market was on track to start supplying lithium concentrate before the end of March from Bald Hill in Western Australia, a mine that will generate 155,000 tonnes a year of spodumene concentrate and 260,000lb of tantalum pentoxide.

Spodumene, a crystal, is the source of high-purity lithium, with other sources coming from brine operations.

Tantalum pentoxide is used to make electronic devices.

Lithium is considered one of the "hot minerals" given the global push for electric vehicles, with millions of dollars flooding into battery research.

Joint research by Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering and Argonne National Laboratory has, for example, found a way to use iron in a "super lithium-rich" battery application that holds a charge for longer and is cheaper than lithium batteries that use cobalt, another "hot" mineral. The iron replaces cobalt.

"If battery-powered cars can compete with or exceed gasoline-powered cars in terms of range and cost, that will change the world," Christopher Wolverton, professor of materials science and engineering at McCormick, is quoted as saying on Northwestern University’s website earlier in January.

Investec said: "The lithium fever under way perhaps has some similarities to that observed when iron ore went over $150 per tonne in early 2013, in that slow supply response to rising demand squeezed up prices that then triggered major producers to rapidly open the taps. This in turn squeezed out a number of new entrants and killed off even more developer/explorers."

seccombea@bdfm.co.za

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