The Keliber lithium hydroxide project will comprise five mining areas, the Päiväneva concentrator, the lithium hydroxide refinery at the Kokkola Industrial Park (Keliber lithium refinery) and auxiliary facilities at all sites.
At 31 December 2022, the Keliber project had an attributable (84.96%) Mineral Resource of 14.5 Mt grading at 1% Lithium Oxide (LiO2), containing 366.1kt of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE); and Mineral Reserves of 8.2 Mt grading at 1% Lithium Oxide (LiO2), containing 193.6kt of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE).
The Keliber lithium refinery will be located in the Kokkola Industrial Park, close by the Port of Kokkola, a world-class industrial and logistics hub that is strategically positioned to supply the growing European battery sector. Once operational, the refinery is expected to produce an estimated 15,000 tonnes of lithium hydroxide monohydrate annually.
With capital expenditure of €588m having been approved for development of the project, work on the first phase, construction of the Keliber lithium refinery, started on 7 March 2023.
Construction of the refinery, the longest lead time component of the Keliber project, will ensure optimal scheduling of the other key project components, ensuring the timeous ramp up of the project to deliver into and to capitalise on forecast looming lithium deficits and elevated lithium prices.
Should the refinery be completed ahead of receipt of required permitting for the mines and concentrator, it will be able to profitably beneficiate third party spodumene until such time as feed from the mines is available. Keliber has engaged with third parties on the possible supply of spodumene concentrate to the refinery, and extensive work and analysis has been completed to ensure the feasibility of the Keliber lithium refinery as a standalone operating entity.
The five proposed mining sites are:
The project entails the development of four open cast and three highly-mechanised underground, mining operations – Syväjärvi and Rapasaari will be developed initially. Development of the Emmes, Outovesi, and Länttä operations will follow towards the end of the project life. These operations are situated across three municipalities, namely Kaustinen, Kokkola and Kronoby. Ore mined will be fed to the Päiväneva concentrator (see below).
The main mining areas of Syväjärvi and Rapasaari have a combined expected life of mine of approximately 16 years, based on the current ore reserve. There is significant potential for discovering additional ore reserves.
The concentrator that will service the Keliber project is to be located in the area of Päiväneva, close to the Syväjärvi and Rapasaari mines.
The concentrator will be built on the border of the municipalities of Kaustinen and Kronoby. The concentrator will have an estimated annual capacity of 200,000 tonnes of spodumene concentrate, which will be transported 66 kilometres to the Keliber lithium refinery in the Kokkola Industrial Park.
Construction and development of the Päiväneva concentrator and the initial two open pit mines – Syväjärvi followed by the flagship Rapasaari – will begin once all environmental permits have been received. Currently, Syväjärvi is fully permitted, while the environmental permits granted to the Rapasaari mine and the Päiväneva concentrator in December 2022 are not yet legally valid.
A definitive feasibility study (DFS), completed by Keliber in February 2022 and updated in October 2022, confirmed the robust economics of the Keliber project at hydroxide prices significantly lower than the average prevailing spot price over the last 12 months.
The DFS assumed an average life-of-mine operating cost of €6,751/tonne of lithium hydroxide and project capital (adjusted for inflation to October 2022) of approximately €588 million. The DFS forecast a 20% post tax internal rate of return (IRR) and a post-tax net present value (NPV) of €887 million (real 2022 terms) for the Keliber project, assuming an 8% discount rate, an average lithium hydroxide price of US$26,034/tonne and an average exchange rate of €/US$ 1.10. Assuming SFA Oxford’s long-term forecast lithium hydroxide price of US$37,000/tonne, 42% higher than assumed for the DFS, the NPV of the Keliber project increases by 94% to €1.72 billion (real 2022 terms) at a 27% post tax IRR.
- Sibanye-Stillwater announced that it had given the go-ahead to implementation of the Keliber project and the start of construction of the Keliber lithium refinery on 28 November 2022. See the Keliber project update and the related presentation.
- Construction of the Keliber lithium refinery was started on 7 March 2023.
- Production ramp-up is planned for H2/2025
Keliber’s advanced production process, which will be central to responsible and sustainable lithium chemical production, involves mining, concentrating, heat treatment and hydrometallurgical refining. The entire process chain – from the mining of the ore to the production of battery-grade lithium hydroxide – will be managed by Keliber.
Both open pit and some underground mining are expected to take place at Keliber’s five high-grade spodumene lithium ore deposits.
Once the concentrator has been constructed and commissioned, the concentrating enrichment process will begin with the crushing and milling of the ore mined. This will be followed by flotation. The resultant flotation concentrate (spodumene) will then be transferred to the Keliber refinery for further processing and refining.
Once operational, the Keliber refinery will use high temperatures to convert the crystal structure of the spodumene concentrate into β-spodumene, which will in turn be processed further using hydrometallurgical principles to yield lithium hydroxide.
The planned refining process will be based on soda leaching, which will help minimise any negative environmental effects of production by allowing for side stream optimisation. This state-of-the-art refining process was developed in collaboration with Metso Outotec.