Research partnership brings lithium producer to small-town Quebec

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Research partnership brings lithium producer to small-town Quebec

Collège Shawinigan’s applied research centre helps ore-processing company scale up
October 19, 2015

A Quebec City-based company is opening its first lithium processing plant in Shawinigan, Que., after partnering with the local college there to develop a competitive new process for extracting valuable compounds from ore. The plant represents an investment of $300 million for the small community, which has suffered from recent factory closures, and the operators believe there’s room to grow.

Nemaska Lithium will begin producing high-quality lithium hydroxide and lithium carbonate mainly for hybrid and electric car batteries when its plant opens in late 2018. It says the demand for lithium batteries continues to expand due to the increasing need for electric vehicles and large-scale lithium battery storage.

The company partnered with the National Center for Electrochemistry and Environmental Technologies (known as CNETE in French) at Collège Shawinigan in 2012. The center used equipment funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation and research expertise in electrolysis to test and validate a process that the company had developed to produce lithium hydroxide and lithium carbonate without the use of costly soda ash.

The process uses electrolysis to convert lithium sulfate (processed out of spodumene, a mineral and important source of lithium) into liquid lithium hydroxide and carbonate. The method proved to be faster, more affordable and more environmentally friendly than established methods. With an abundance of spodumene in Nemaska’s hard rock lithium mine in Whabouchi, Que. — the largest measured resource of lithium in the world with 25 years of resources to mine — the company is well positioned to compete in the global lithium market.

The success of Nemaska Lithium’s research partnership with CNETE encouraged the company’s decision to build a test plant in Shawinigan to scale up its production. Construction on the pilot plant started in September 2015, the same month that Nemaska announced it would also build its main processing plant in Shawinigan with construction set to begin in 2018. The community welcomed the news. Over the past five years, it has seen the closure of three factories and the loss of hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in revenue.