Insights from AusIMM Lithium & Battery Metals Conference 2019
By Mark Cooksey
Opportunities vs. expectations
Earlier this month a few members of our Mineral Processing Optimisation (MPO) team were fortunate enough to attend the AusIMM Lithium 2019 conference in Perth. The event focused specifically on the demand and potential of lithium in the coming years.
A central theme of the conference was the opportunities for mining and mineral processing, particularly now that battery demand is growing.
One of the most interesting and important issues that arose was how these opportunities are being affected by the increasing expectations of external stakeholders.
As more companies propose, construct and operate new mines, determining how to meet these increasing expectations is of paramount importance.
Here I will outline the key insights that were discussed at AusIMM in relation to these changes and what they mean for your operation, how others are adapting, and the best way to capitalise on opportunities.
Understanding the role of community in mining
Firstly, it’s important to understand the increasing expectations for new mines.
There is a growing expectation from governments and communities that new mines should create as much value as possible for the wider community. This means more than just the jobs associated with construction and mining, but the creation of downstream value-add industries.
In the past, we’ve seen lost opportunities to capture all of the potential value from mining booms. The later stages of production (and the social benefits that come with it) often occur overseas using ore exported from Australia.
There is also an increasing expectation that new mines will make a positive contribution to sustainability. New lithium mines contribute in this regard because they are required for applications such as electric vehicles. However, if the traditional linear approach is used then we will be left with enormous numbers of end-of-life batteries. There is an increasing expectation that we will implement more recycling solutions – a circular economy approach.
Designing new mines and operations without addressing these changing community expectations can present some long term issues. The construction of new mines is not governed just by legal requirements, but requires social support. Extracting value from the mineral resources, but not creating value for the local community and broader society, can lead to a drop in support for the mining industry and diminish the relationships with key stakeholders.
Adding complexity to an already complex project
So, what impact does this have on companies considering new mines?
It became clear through discussions at the conference that it is one thing to acknowledge the issues, but it is much more complex and difficult to act on them.
If you are considering a new mine and mineral processing operations, community expectations can add complexity to an already complex project.
A company may be willing to also develop downstream processing, but this requires another large amount of capital and a deeper understanding of the downstream markets. The same principles apply to considering investment in recycling solutions.
Furthermore, many companies lack the knowledge and expertise to develop downstream operations.
These factors increase the risk of the entire project, and it is not surprising that most companies elect to focus on the mine and initial mineral processing.
The value of external expertise
Communities and State Governments are expecting mining operations to consider downstream opportunities. However, they themselves are unsure exactly on how to achieve this. This illustrates the value of engaging external expertise.
There is agreement on the need to work internally, with stakeholders and with external experts to achieve a viable outcome. This includes:
- Speaking with government and community about the whole value chain, and role of your company within it. Avoid over-simplifying the benefits of building mines, or under-representing the opportunity for further value creation.
- Investigating the approach being taken by other companies or countries, and how you can learn from and adapt these strategies
- Engage experts who have experience with developing new processes, as well as considerable knowledge of downstream markets.
Put plans into action with CSIRO
What we can take away from discussions at AusIMM 2019 is that while industry opportunities grow, so do the expectations that are placed upon you as a mineral processing operation.
By engaging the right expertise to assist in further downstream processing operations, you stand an increased chance at successfully meeting both market demand and community expectations.
We offers science led expertise across the battery value chain, from mineral deposits to battery performance and recycling, and is one of the few organisations that has such a breadth of knowledge.
Our work to develop a new process for lithium metal production is an example of our ability to develop downstream processes.
If you’re interested in harnessing the opportunities and meeting the challenges of battery minerals processing, CSIRO – through our research, breakthrough science and world class facilities – is uniquely positioned to assist with your operation and add value to your project.
Contact the team on +61 3 9545 8865 or email me, Mark.Cooksey@csiro.au, to discuss how our expertise and experience can help you.