For the first time in a lithium extraction project, Australia leaves all process steps from ore mining and separation to refining in the country. With its comprehensive technology portfolio, GEA is supporting its customer Albemarle, in this project.

In this context, GEA has received in December 2018 an order from Albemarle to supply screening and pusher centrifuges, peeler centrifuges and decanter centrifuge plants for the treatment of lithium derivatives in various process stages. The order value for GEA is EUR 20 million. The new plant in Albemarle is to be built in the Kemerton Strategic Industrial Area (KSIA), 17 kilometers northeast of Bunbury in Western Australia. In three independent trains, the green field hydromet plant will produce 60,000 metric tons of lithium hydroxide per year.     

The demand for lithium in its pure form and lithium derivatives is growing steadily worldwide. This is due to the unique properties of lithium, a lightweight, flexible element capable of storing large amounts of energy. Lithium and lithium hydroxide are indispensable in lithium-ion batteries for electric cars and smartphones, but also in other applications outside energy storage such as pharmaceuticals, lubricants, glasses and ceramics, rubber, photo developers and in the production of borates (salts or esters of boric acids). The extraction of this raw material and its further processing in various process stages by competent partners and cooperation based on partnership are therefore becoming increasingly important and secure the value-added chain for these products in Australia.

GEA supports its customers in the realization of lithium process plants with a comprehensive technology spectrum. Especially for the mechanical separation of sedimentation, centrifuges are an important component in the entire process flow. GEA's expertise includes the separation of impurities by centrifugal separators for solids and liquids as well as techniques for the concentration, purification and fluid bed drying of lithium salt compounds. These compounds are mixed with other substances and further processed. GEA is the world leader in the spray drying of these state-of-the-art materials to battery powder for the production of lithium batteries and also offers a comprehensive service.

"Creating value for our customers and supporting them with our many years of experience and expertise are GEA's strategic principles. We not only supply high-quality products, but are also a true solution provider," says Klaus Stojentin, Executive Vice President Product Management & Sales.

Not only strong in lithium-ion battery technology

Even though lithium is known through battery technology, the element can do much more. Most of the lithium hydroxide is required for the production of lithium stearates, which are important lubricating greases for cars or airplanes. It is also used as an air purifier due to its carbon dioxide binding effect. This is particularly important in space travel, on submarines and in pendulum breath diving devices ("rebreathers"). Lithium hydroxide can be added to cement and is capable of suppressing the alkali-silica reaction. Lithium hydroxide is also a possible additive in nickel-iron batteries. In pressurized water reactors, lithium hydroxide is added to the primary circuit in order to neutralize boric acid and achieve a pH of about 7.2.