Miner Discovers Lithium in Them Thar Hills (of Waste Rock)
FT today has an interesting piece on the serendipity of resource exploration. Major multinational Rio Tinto, a world-class copper and iron ore producer, uncovered an unexpected find at its long-running California boron mine – source of the iconic 20-Mule Team Borax brand detergent. Looking for gold in the boron waste rock, the miner found lithium instead. With a hat tip to Mark Twain’s Mulberry Sellars, turns out “there’s lithium in them thar hills (of waste rock).”
It’s a timely find. With the U.S. more than 50% import-dependent for its annual lithium needs, driven by the EV battery boom, the U.S. Government put lithium on its 2018 Critical Mineral List, as being key to the U.S. “national economy and national security.”
According to FT:
- “The London-based miner said it could become the largest producer of lithium for batteries in the US if it can successfully process the rock on a larger scale. The discovery may pave the way for Rio’s entry into the lithium market, which is set to see dramatic growth over the next decade due to the rise of electric vehicles, which are powered by lithium-ion batteries. Lithium is currently produced in South America and Australia and is controlled by five producers, two of whom are Chinese.”
- “Simon Moores, managing director of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, a consultancy, said the discovery was a low-cost way for Rio to get to grips with the chemical processing required to turn lithium into a form suitable for batteries. The mining company would be in a position to look at scaling up production once it had done so, he added. ‘They’re gaining confidence that the EV industry is real and we have a clear pathway forward….’”
With the price for battery-grade lithium tripling since 2010, maybe Rio Tinto discovered gold after all.