“We’re here to build,” says Lithium Universe CEO on plans for Quebec lithium hub
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EV Supply Chain
Mar 26, 2024
Mehanaz Yakub

Australian junior’s Quebec lithium processing strategy starts with a refinery in Bécancour by 2027, with a mine and concentrator to follow

The site layout of Lithium Universe’s refinery overlaid on Lot 22 in Bécancour, Québec. Photo: Lithium Universe

Australian junior’s Quebec lithium processing strategy starts with a refinery in Bécancour by 2027, with a mine and concentrator to follow

A new company is setting up shop at the Bécancour Industrial Park to bridge gaps in the North American lithium supply chain.

Alex Hanly, CEO of Lithium Universe. Photo: Lithium Universe

In February, Lithium Universe, an Australian junior lithium explorer and developer purchased a 27.6-hectare plot of industrial land (known as Lot 22) in Bécancour, Que.

It plans to build a battery-grade lithium carbonate refinery by 2027 at the site, to help supply the growing battery manufacturing sector, says Alex Hanly, CEO of Lithium Universe, in an interview with Electric Autonomy.

The refinery is part of Lithium Universe’s overall strategy to build a Quebec Lithium Processing Hub, which also includes a plan to mine for spodumene in the James Bay region and to build a lithium concentrator to process raw material from its own mine and others in the area.

Lithium Universe anticipates a significant increase in North American demand for lithium materials in the near future. With over 20 major battery producers aiming to produce approximately 900 gigawatts of battery capacity by 2028, the company estimates 800,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate equivalent per year will be needed.

To meet the demand, North America’s refining capabilities must expand, too.

“We still see a significant shortfall in conversion capacity in North America, probably around 300-to-400,000-tonne deficit by 2028,” explains Hanly.

“Canada wants to be the backbone to the North American battery chain. So, we’re not here to explore — we’re here to build a project as quickly as we can.”

Choosing Bécancour

The Lithium Universe refinery in Bécancour will be located in the same area as General Motors and Posco Chemicals’ $550-million cathode active material factory, as well as the $1.3-billion Ford/EcoProBM cathode factory.

Southwest of Bécancour, Swedish battery developer and manufacturer Northvolt is also building a lithium-ion battery gigafactory near Montreal.

Lithium Universe selected the site for the same reasons as many of its neighbours: Quebec’s abundant clean hydroelectricity and the site’s access to port and highway facilities to transport the spodumene required for lithium carbonate conversion at the refinery.

The purchase price of the land was $12.6 million.

Lithium carbonate conversion

The Lithium Universe refinery is expected to produce 16,000 tonnes per year of lithium carbonate. The company is working with the global engineering firm Hatch, which is currently conducting an engineering study for the envisioned carbonate plant.

“We’ve already started doing some test work. We want to be able to process all types of spodumene in the refinery [from Canada, Australia and Brazil],” says Hanly.

Lithium Universe has chosen to produce lithium carbonate over lithium hydroxide due to the increasing demand for lithium carbonate driven by major automakers like Tesla, Volkswagen, Ford and GM that are using lithium iron phosphate battery (LFP) batteries.

Another advantage is the flexibility of lithium carbonate, as it can be converted to hydroxide if needed. By choosing lithium carbonate, the company is protecting their options for potential market shifts, says Hanly.

In the future, Lithium Universe has the option to construct two more refineries at Lot 22, potentially increasing the total production capacity to 48,000 tonnes per year of lithium carbonate.

“That scale-up or expansion would be based on new offtake agreements or new appetite to fund that. But the beauty of the strategy and design is that we can cookie cutter that anywhere across Canada,” says Hanly.

Establishing a Quebec lithium hub

The construction of the refinery is just one component of Lithium Universe’s broader Quebec Lithium Processing Hub strategy.

The company aims to build a mine-to-battery-grade materials pipeline.

Lithium Universe is conducting lithium spodumene exploration at its Apollo Lithium project in Quebec’s James Bay region.

Moving downstream, Lithium Universe also has plans to build a one million tonne per annum spodumene concentrator. The purpose of a spodumene concentrator is to process and concentrate spodumene ore to eventually move it to the refinery where it is converted to lithium carbonate.

Lithium Universe also plans to collaborate with other mines in the James Bay region to feed their spodumene ore output into its facility.

“By employing our model where we have more of a conglomerate,” says Hanly. “We can mine different ore bodies, feed into the one facility, then that gets those mines up and running.”

The company is considering potential sites for the concentrator in the regions of Chibougamau, Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Matagami and Trans-Taiga.

Lithium Universe has appointed Primero Group Ltd. as the lead manager of the concentrator and has already started the engineering study. However, due to permitting timelines in Canada, it will take five to seven years to go through the permitting process needed to set up the concentrator and build it.

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