Gold producer turned lithium miner Neometals has shifted its focus downstream in the value chain, identifying disruptive technologies to address well-known challenges.
ASX-listed Neometals Ltd (ASX:NMT) has been through a number of reincarnations.
The one-time gold producer, then known as Reed Resources, had its first rebirth building an operating joint venture at the Mt Marion Lithium project.
In March 2019, Neometals divested the last of its shareholding in the joint venture running the world-leading lithium mining and concentration operation, banked a considerable sum of cash and focused more squarely on a range of emerging challenges in the battery minerals/materials space.
While the company still holds a number of upstream mineral projects targeted for development – including the Barrambie titanium and vanadium project north of Sandstone in WA, and the Mt Edwards Nickel Project in WA’s Goldfields region – the primary focus is developing battery recycling, vanadium recovery technology and sustainable production of lithium chemicals using an offtake option retained from Mt Marion.
According to Jeremy McManus, Neometals’ General Manager – Commercial and Investor Relations, the company is pursuing a range of downstream opportunities in the energy storage and electric vehicle arena, driven largely by demand from the battery value chain and a strong global push for more sustainable methods of accessing critical materials.
“We’re focused on identifying tomorrow’s opportunities before they are deemed ‘sexy’,” Jeremy said.
“We are developing new pathways to generate minerals that have been around for a long time. As such, we know the size of the markets and understand the supply-demand equation.
“We’re pursuing disruptive technologies for very tangible opportunities.”
One of the most tangible of those is Neometals’ lithium-ion battery recycling project. The company has developed a proprietary method that targets recovery of 95 per cent of materials from scrap and end-of-life batteries that might otherwise end up in landfill or go through energy-intensive recovery processes with heavy greenhouse gas footprints.
According to Jeremy, the company is targeting significant opportunities with European car, battery cell and consumer electronics manufacturers.
“If you look at electro-mobility, all the major manufacturers are focused on battery technology, driven by mandated requirements for lower carbon emissions and far more sustainable and circular outcomes,” he said.
“And while consumers may have been slow to respond in Australia, in the rest of the world the adoption rate for hybrid and fully electric vehicles is far more advanced.”
That’s why Neometals has developed its recycling joint venture, Primobius GmbH, with German company SMS group. The aim is to make revenue in the near term through the recycling, licensing and sale of recovered materials including cobalt, nickel, lithium, copper, iron, aluminium and manganese products.
It is a similar story for the company’s vanadium recovery project.
Although still early in the development cycle, the project is focused on recovery of high-grade vanadium from surface stockpiles generated by Scandinavian steelmaker SSAB.
Jeremy says the project is moving fast through early evaluation stages and is unique in that the project presents no mining risk, is exceptionally high grade and involves transforming mining by-products into value. The recovery process is also likely to require carbon dioxide as a processing feedstock, providing additional benefits from sequestering carbon.
“Europe’s push for environmentally sound and more sustainable solutions is driving a lot of opportunity,” Jeremy said.
“The European Commission is also red hot on finding domestic, ethical sources of critical minerals and if you can support decarbonisation without having to dig up rocks, people are going to listen.
“We have two European-based ‘recycling/recovery projects in development that tick a lot of boxes.”
While Neometals may no longer be reliant on upstream minerals, the lessons learned through the Mt Marion Lithium Project journey continue to serve as a foundation for its business model.
“It took time to break into the lithium market and Neometals invested in research and development as a means of staying at the bottom end of the cost curve,” Jeremy said.
“While we are now also focused further down the value chain, all our projects follow the same Mt Marion model of bringing in partners to reduce risk and investing in R&D to develop more economical, sustainable ways of operating.”