LITHOS: cost-effective processing and refining of lithium into lithium hydroxide from strategic European multi-mineral lithium hard-rock projects

LITHOS Project

On 16 March 2023, the EC published the Critical Raw Materials Act (CRMA) setting “benchmarks along the strategic raw materials value chain and for the diversification of EU supplies”. By targeting the domestic processing and refining of lithium – arguably “the most strategic CRM” – LITHOS directly contributes to the 1st and 2nd CRMA benchmarks (10% domestic extraction; 40% domestic processing). LITHOS processes and refines the ores from three “Strategic Projects” in terms of domestic battery-grade LiOH·H2O production: two spodumene-bearing pegmatite cases (Keliber’s deposits in the Kaustinen region, Finland; Savannah’s Barroso Lithium Project, Portugal) and one Rare-Metal Granite (RMG) case (Imerys’ Beauvoir mine in France). LITHOS expands and tailors the existing Keliber & Metso:Outotec flowsheet, which was developed for regular-grade spodumene ores, so that:

  1. the cut-off grade for spodumene ores is reduced, resulting in larger Li reserves, while
  2. allowing the commercialisation of lower-grade pegmatite and RMG deposits.

LITHOS triggers innovations along the value chain – mineral processing, concentrate pre-treatment & hydrometallurgical refining – making it possible to deal with different levels and types of impurities in non-spodumene Li minerals (lepidolite & petalite). LITHOS gives specific attention to closed-loop water systems in the mineral processing (KPI: 90% less water consumption). The overall CO2 emissions of the LITHOS flowsheet will be 50% lower than today’s benchmark (production of spodumene concentrate in Australia & refining in China). This work is enriched by bespoke thermodynamic modelling and digital twins. Supported by FMG & Euromines, LITHOS intends to replicate the LITHOS “responsible mining and refining” concept to the other 24 identified Lihard-rock deposits in Europe. LITHOS’s meta-objective is to unleash Europe’s full Li-hard-rock ore potential (total: 8.8 Mt Li2O) so as to become self-sufficient by 2030–35 in terms of made-in-Europe LiOH·H2O.

LITHOS consortium, LITHOS case studies (3 European “strategic” Li hard-rock projects) and average Li grade (wt% Li2O) vs. Mt of ore for selected Li deposits. As a reference, Greenbushes (Australia) and Whabouchi (Canada) (LCT-pegmatites) are shown here for the sake of comparison with the LITHOS case studies (top-right image simplified from Gourcerol et al. (2019)).

LITHOS complements the on-going Horizon Europe IA EXCEED project.

It is important to note that LITHOS is fully in sync with the objectives of the on-going EXCEED project funded by Horizon Europe (Innovation Action – IA), coordinated by VTT and involving other key LITHOS players and Li case-studies. In EXCEED the focus is on the processing residual streams that arise during the base-case primary Li mineral processing flowsheet. EXCEED targets the recovery of the accessory CRMs (Nd/Pr, Nb, Ta, W, Be) and industrial minerals (quartz, feldspar, micas) as by-products from the primary Li operations. By combining LITHOS and EXCEED, Europe can develop a novel, responsible, towards-zero-waste, multi-metal / multi-mineral mining and refining paradigm in Europe.

LITHOS' high-level scientific objectives

Interested to learn more about LITHOS?