Metso expands alliance with Avalon for lithium processing in Ontario

Metso  and Avalon Advanced Materials (TSX:AVLL; OTCQB:AVLNF) have expanded their partnership to advance construction of a full-service lithium processing facility in Thunder […]
From left: Giuseppe Campanelli, Metso president, North and Central America; Mikko Rantaharju, Metso VP hydrometallurgy; Zeeshan Syed, Avalon president; and Rickardo Welyhorsky, Avalon COO. Credit: Avalon Advanced Materials

Metso  and Avalon Advanced Materials (TSX:AVLL; OTCQB:AVLNF) have expanded their partnership to advance construction of a full-service lithium processing facility in Thunder Bay, Ont. The parties have also agreed to co-develop a technology and innovation centre, also located on-site in Thunder Bay, accelerating an industrial park concept that will co-locate key supply chain partners.

The agreement calls for Metso to provide testing and engineering equipment procurement and related services to develop and commercialize Avalon's lithium processing facility. The partners will also create a testing laboratory for research and development on lithium and clean technology solutions. Avalon and Metso will co-operate on the recycling of used batteries and the refining of battery chemicals for recycle use.

The expanded partnership agreement follows a memorandum of understanding from July 2023 that enabled Metso and Avalon to develop an innovative, sustainable methodology to produce commercial lithium hydroxide from petalite mineral feeds.

Mikko Rantaharju, V-P hydrometallurgy at Metso noted, "Metso is proud to partner with Avalon on their bold vision for Thunder Bay, and help co-create novel processing, training, recycling and research capacity. Metso has successfully worked with Avalon in this remarkable project to develop a sustainable process to produce battery grade lithium using our proprietary alkaline pressure leach process. This agreement marks yet another key milestone between the parties as we advance forward to build a wide scope of economic benefits for the future."

Through the R&D efforts undertaken by Avalon and Metso, the proprietary lithium hydroxide process represents a far more sustainable conversion method compared to conventional acid roasting. The process operates in an alkaline state and utilizes pressure leaching, which is unique for lithium conversion, eliminating the use of sulphuric acid, and with no production of sodium sulphate as a biproduct. Instead, a substance called Analcime – an inert solid aluminium silicate – is produced, as well as calcium carbonate. Importantly, both substances have commercial uses in industrial building applications and other industries. The method also reduces overall air emissions compared to conventional lithium processing.

In addition, this process is expected to be a safer for operating personnel, the environment and the community in general compared to the traditional acid roasting method which is used in jurisdictions with less stringent commitments to environmental safety and stewardship compared to North America.

The planned Thunder Bay processing facility and Avalon's Separation Rapids  lithium project (a joint venture with Sibelco) near Kenora, Ont., are expected to create an estimated 500 full-time jobs. It will also enable broader development of northwestern Ontario's regional lithium assets by other producers seeking to utilize the proximity of Avalon's processing capacity. The Thunder Bay facility to commence commercial activity in 2028.

Avalon and Metso are also planning to co-develop, along with regional educational institutions such as Lakehead University and Confederation College, a technology and innovation centre on-site to conduct research and development in the areas of critical minerals and clean technologies, which will contribute to Canada's transition to a net-zero economy.

The centre will include a bench-scale testing lab, an assaying lab, a full demonstration plant, and a training facility to support the full-scale commercial process.

Metso has further agreed to provide instructional training for testing, investigation, design, and engineering to maximize the recycling of waste product as well as determine new uses in other industrial applications. Overall, this initiative will support Avalon's commitment to minimizing environmental impacts and accelerate Canada's environmental leadership on the world stage.

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