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Multotec leverages lithium experience as it readies to supply equipment to new projects in Africa

The lithium processing industry is constantly evolving, and technology advancements have been crucial in shaping its future. Several companies and organisations within the mining and mineral processing sector have led the way in pushing innovation to new heights and have transformed the lithium processing technology landscape.

In recent years, there has been a surge in the number of lithium projects in Africa as companies continue to search for alternative lithium resources, which brings new challenges to the table related to lithium processing.

“A decade of experience in the design and supply of mineral processing equipment into the lithium industry has allowed Multotec to provide these new operations with fit-for-purpose solutions,” says Wilna Hoffmann, Business Development Manager at Multotec.

“Multotec has leveraged the lessons learned in Australia, Canada and Brazil to assist engineering houses with equipment solutions for projects in Africa including Ethiopia, Namibia and Zimbabwe.”

She says that the company has been working with design houses worldwide to understand hard rock lithium mineralogy, including amongst others spodumene, lepidolite, petalite and zinnwaldite.

“A decade of technological advancements and finetuning equipment design in the lithium market has allowed Multotec to improve both product efficiency and equipment life expectancy,” says Hoffmann.

Equipment supplied worldwide

The equipment that Multotec supplies globally to clients in the lithium sector includes dense medium separation cyclones, classification cyclones, samplers, magnetic separators, static screens, densifiers, pumps, screening media and spirals for associated tantalum recovery.

She notes that Multotec has had to optimise the material used for the construction of equipment due to the abrasive qualities of some hard-rock lithium ore bodies but adds that mineral processing advancements are not limited to equipment but are also shaped by the experience obtained in these processes.

“This is about aiding the industry as a whole and it helps our clients to understand the process better which in turn helps them to optimise their processes, she says.

Hoffmann adds that Multotec considers collaboration and cooperation between countries and companies in the pursuit of unlocking the potential of untapped lithium resources as critical, explaining that the reason is that no single company has all the experience as lithium mineralogy can be very variable across different regions of the globe.

“What we have seen is that collaboration between equipment suppliers, lithium specialists and engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) companies has been excellent and has resulted in the successful execution and commissioning of plants across the globe,” she says.

“For example, as Multotec we have worked very closely with our sister companies, who has a niche insight into lithium salt centrifuge dewatering purification and drying.”

Upfront test work

Hoffmann adds that there are specific ways in which companies can contribute to the optimisation of lithium extraction and processing, including conducting upfront test work to derisk a project. This is highly recommended for lithium orebodies due to the variability of the ore.

“A holistic approach between supplier, consultant and EPC always results in a favourable outcome for the end client. The suggested flowsheet can be confirmed by piloting and optimisation before the full-scale execution of the project.”

However, she points out that there are several challenges that countries and companies face in their efforts to explore untapped lithium resources and implement innovative processing technologies. One of the main ones is related to the size of the market and resultant price variability, which means that the timing of a lithium project is more important than anything else as the technology is already proven and well understood.

“Although lithium prices have dropped, projects are still going ahead in Africa due to ongoing demand and low-cost fit-for-purpose solutions that are now available.  We are looking forward to utilising our experience in the supply of equipment into additional lithium projects in Africa – including South Africa, the DRC and Ghana – in the very near future,” says Hoffmann.

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