In a recent article, Mining Technology listed a few lithium mines which are in the running for becoming the top producers of the metal in the world. Here’s a look at the top six of these lithium mines on the basis of their proven or probable reserves:
Top six Largest Lithium Mines in the world
Greenbushes Lithium Project – 86.4Mt
The Greenbushes lithium project is said to be the sixth-largest lithium mine in the world and is located in Greenbushes (Western Australia). It is owned by the Chinese mining company Tianqi Lithium and operated by Talison Lithium. The latter is 51% owned by Tianqi Lithium. The mine is estimated to contain proven and probable reserves of 86.4Mt grading 2.35% Li2O.
The Greenbushes mining operation has three processing plants – one producing technical grade lithium concentrates and the other two producing chemical grade lithium concentrate. Ore containing Li2O is fed into the processing plants, which upgrade the lithium mineral, using gravity, heavy media, flotation and magnetic processes, into a range of lithium concentrates for bulk and bagged shipments.
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Earl Grey Lithium Project – 94.2 Mt
Also known as the Mt Holland lithium project, the Earl Grey lithium project is located in the Forestania Greenstone Belt in Mt Holland (Western Australia). It is allegedly the fifth largest lithium mine in the world and is estimated to contain proven and probable reserves of 94.5Mt grading 1.5% Li2O. The mine is owned by Kidman Resources (50%) and Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile (SQM, 50%) under a joint venture named Covalent Lithium. Upon commissioning in 2020, the mine was expected to produce 411,233t of spodumene concentrate a year over its 47-year mine life.
Pilgangoora Lithium-Tantalum Project – 108.2 Mt
Situated in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, the Pilgangoora lithium-tantalum project is 100% owned and operated by Pilbara Minerals. It is said to be the fourth biggest lithium mine in the world. The proven and probable reserves of the mine are estimated to be 108.2Mt grading 1.25% Li2O and 120 parts per million (ppm) Ta2O5 and 1.17% Fe2O3. After a planned second stage expansion, Pilbara Minerals expects to increase the production capacity of the mine to 5Mtpa, allowing it to produce 850,000tpa of 6% spodumene concentrate.
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Wodgina Lithium Project – 151.94Mt
The third largest lithium mine in the world is said to be the Wodgina lithium project which is also located in Western Australia. The mine is 100km southeast of Port Hedland and was earlier fully owned by Mineral Resources. However, the company entered an agreement with Albemarle Corporation in August 2019 to form a 60:40 joint venture in order to develop the mine. The open-pit mine is estimated to contain probable reserves of 151.94Mt grading 1.17% Li2O.
Thacker Pass Lithium Project – 179.4Mt
The Thacker Pass lithium project is said to be the second biggest lithium mine in the world and is located in Humboldt County, Nevada (US). It is 100% owned and operated by Lithium Americas. The mine is estimated to contain proven and probable reserves of 179.4Mt containing 3.1Mt of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE) and is expected to have a life cycle of 46 years.
The pre-feasibility study (PFS) for the project was completed in August 2018 and proposed a two-phase mine development plan using open-pit methods. Phase one was expected to be commissioned in 2022 with a production capacity of 30,000tpa of battery-grade Li2CO3, while phase two is expected to increase the capacity to 60,000tpa with a commissioning date of 2026.
Sonora Lithium Project – 243.8Mt
The Sonora lithium project is located in Sonora (Mexico) and is touted as the biggest lithium deposit in the world. The lithium mine is being developed by Sonora Lithium (SLL) which is a joint venture of Bacanora Minerals (77.5%) and Ganfeng Lithium (22.5%).
The mine is estimated to hold proven and probable reserves of 243.8Mt, containing 4.5Mt of lithium carbonate-equivalent (LCE). According to the bankable feasibility study for the La Ventana concession, which is expected to account for 88% of the mined ore from the project, the estimated mine life will be around 19 years.
Sonora is expected to be an open-pit operation which is likely to be developed in two stages. The first stage is expected to have a production capacity of 17,500 tonnes per annum (TPA) of lithium carbonate, while stage two is expected to double the production capacity to 35,000tpa.